Grief Cottage: A Novel by Gail Goodwin


“I wish I knew what she was trying to walk out of, what kind of debris in her history she needed to sort out.”


As this novel focuses so much on young Marcus, living with his reclusive great aunt Charlotte after his mother passes away I think a younger audience would enjoy it so much more. But that doesn’t take away the pleasure for adults. The struggle is immediate, as Marcus deeply loves his mother and is cruelly called her ‘little husband’. Certainly in a household without a father, where the single mother struggles to make ends meet, a boy can feel conflicted. My heart went out to him for these reasons- wanting to do things for her and then the stain of cruel taunts making it sound like something sexual (it’s not). When his mother tragically dies in a car accident, he feels he is a burden on Aunt Charlotte, whom he never really got to know. There is a distance in the family’s history, and too much he doesn’t understand about the relationship between his great aunt and his own grandmother- whom nothing was ever good enough for, including his own mother. Why did his Aunt run off from the family? There reasons, things that poisoned the family structure and the reader slowly comes to know what they are.

Over time, he may just realize his Aunt Charlotte needs him as much as he needs her. On this South Carolina beach,  it isn’t just family memories and secrets disturbing the balance. His aunt is  a gifted painter, whose been able to live off her work comfortably enough. Highly popular are her paintings involving  a cottage, named Grief Cottage after a family was swept away during a hurricane decades past. There is a  ghost- a young boy that appears to Marcus- what is it that ties them together?  I really like that the author created a boy who is already troubled, doesn’t seem to know much about his father, feels like an unwanted orphan, and then the ghost sightings. Aunt Charlotte is a mess too, and while Marcus comes of age, there is much growing for his relative as well. We’re none of us finished products, and those we step in to care for, may in turn save us too.

Somehow it manages to be a ghost story that flows with a family story, rather than coming off as something silly. The characters throughout are just what Marcus needs to heal. Aunt Charlotte isn’t just a silly old spinster, so often in novels any woman past a certain age doesn’t seem like a real person. She has a story, she is lively and strong, blunt with her honesty to Marcus. I kept thinking of Judi Dench in my head, it played as a movie. I enjoyed it, it was tender and sad but hopeful too.

Publication Date: June 6, 2017

Bloomsbury USA


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