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Old Lovegood Girls

Review

Old Lovegood Girls

At 82, Gail Godwin is one of our national literary treasures. Since the publication of her first novel, THE PERFECTIONISTS, in 1970, she has penned numerous well-crafted and award-winning works that are still cherished by readers today. And she shows no signs of slowing down with the release of her most recent effort, OLD LOVEGOOD GIRLS.

I can firmly aver that this is not a “woman’s book,” but a fine work of literary fiction that can be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates the written word and how it is employed by Godwin. It is a realistic look at the concept of friendship and how, in the modern world in which we live, that can be difficult to cultivate with all that we deal with in our daily lives.

"It is Godwin's storytelling gift that makes the novel so very real and engaging. Readers get to truly experience the institution of friendship as she peels back all its nuances layer by layer, straight through to a deeply touching and satisfying finale."

In 1958, Dean Fox of Lovegood Junior College for Girls is working with one of her dorm mistresses, Miss Darden, on who they could pair up with new student Feron Hood. Fox refers to Feron as a “knocked-about girl” who needs a positive, steadying influence for a roommate. That’s when they determine that the ideal choice would be Meredith “Merry” Jellicoe, a diminutive and ceaselessly optimistic young lady who should be just what Feron needs to make it at Lovegood. I couldn't help but be reminded of the Broadway musical “Cats” every time I heard the last name Jellicoe, which was a perfect way to imagine Merry.

The plan pays off; not only do Feron and Merry hit it off, their brief time together as roommates will blossom into a lifelong friendship of two personalities who are quite different from each other. Feron had a tumultuous childhood that she would rather forget, while Merry cannot think of anything bad happening to her outside of the passing of the family dog. Each is inspired to write, but they have contrasting styles. For a Literature class, Merry produces a story that is similar to an afternoon on the campus lawn with her schoolmate, sharing various feelings and secrets. Feron creates something far less structured and more Chekhovian in complexity.

It is with sad irony that their Lovegood relationship will come to a sudden and unexpected end. Each part of the book reflects a large jump in time as we catch up on what has happened to them as they make their separate journeys into the world. 1968 finds Feron working as an editor in New York City. Even though she has not seen Merry for a number of years, she still continues to have what she refers to as “the Merry dream”; it co-stars her old friend but is ever evolving. During this first span of time, Feron and Merry have suffered great loss.

When they finally reunite, it’s as if time stood still. Feron, who usually keeps things close to the vest, confesses that Merry is her reference aura as she always asks herself, “What would Merry do?” I especially got a kick out of Merry staying at the Algonquin Hotel when she visits Feron. This is the same hotel that was home to Dorothy Parker and her Vicious Circle of literary giants and famous wits, such as Noel Coward, Alexander H. Woollcott and Harpo Marx.

With each new section of OLD LOVEGOOD GIRLS, we are treated to another jump in time. In fact, this continues right up to the conclusion, which is just shortly after the dawn of the new century. It is Godwin's storytelling gift that makes the novel so very real and engaging. Readers get to truly experience the institution of friendship as she peels back all its nuances layer by layer, straight through to a deeply touching and satisfying finale.

At the start of the book is a photo of an oil painting by Godwin entitled "Too Deep for Words." It depicts what looks to be two women, one seated and one standing, holding hands before a pastoral background. I would like to believe that this is Feron and Merry, two people who fully understand what friendship and love are all about.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on May 22, 2020

Old Lovegood Girls
by Gail Godwin

  • Publication Date: May 5, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1632868229
  • ISBN-13: 9781632868220