Grief Cottage – a review

Grief Cottage

Author: Gail Godwin

As Gail Godwin is one of my favorite authors, I expected wonderful, and that is what I got. Grief Cottage wraps around its protagonist, 11 year old Marcus, like a fog coming in off the ocean, winding and twisting, soothing and terrorizing. A desolate cottage, a desolate child sent to live a with a desolate great aunt on a South Carolina island, and a ghost all combine to produce a forceful and touching portrait of resilience and love. Grief Cottage provokes a miasma of despair that reaches into Marcus and pulls him out of the fog he is desperately running from.

For Marcus’s beloved mother has just died in a car accident, and Marcus blames his thoughts for her death. Marcus has a brutal fight with his best friend Wheezer when Wheezer comes over just before his mother’s death and discovers that Marcus and his mother sleep in the same bed. They are poor, and the tiny apartment they live in has no room for more than one bed. When Wheezer tells his friends at school the next day that Marcus is his mother’s husband, Marcus beats Wheezer up. They have to leave and move to an even smaller apartment, a smaller town. And then one night his mother goes out to get them pizza and her car slides on ice. She is killed. Marcus is full of guilt about the shame he feels that they are poor and that sometimes he thought he might have to BE his mother’s husband. He is only 9 at the time.

His mother had life insurance so Marcus is in foster care only a short time. His great aunt Charlotte, a hermit and a painter has decided that Marcus will move to her South Caroline Island and live with her. As Marcus sees his great aunt Charlotte for the first time, he realizes that she is a no nonsense person, a solitary person, and he makes it his business to be as good as he can be and to help her as much as he can. For Marcus fears being abandoned once again. He also meets her friend and neighbor, Lachicotte Hayes, a wealthy islander who restores, collects and sells vintage cars, and who was once in business with Aunt Charlotte. Lachicotte becomes his mentor and father figure and tries, along with Marcus, to take care of Aunt Charlotte, who drinks too much and is more of a hermit than they would like.

As Marcus finds the derelict Grief Cottage on the north side of the island, the first cottage built, and now in total disrepair, he hears the story of the Dace family, who disappeared in Hurricane Hazel along with their fourteen year old son, Johnny Dace. They were only renters, but they were the last occupants. Marcus becomes obsessed with the cottage when he sees Johnny Dace standing in the doorway frame watching him and Marcus realizes that the ghost is real.

The island is also home to the loggerhead turtle nesting area, a protected species, and Marcus gets to help the islanders keep the eggs safe until they hatch. As the plot intercepts between Aunt Charlotte’s renditions of Grief Cottage that sell well enough to make her living, we follow Marcus as he grows up much like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. As always, Godwin is remarkable, with prose that pulls one into the landscape and swells with emotional nuance and richness. One of her best, this is a mystery and coming of age novel not to miss.

  • We received a copy of this book for review.
  • Order a copy of Grief Cottage on or your local bookseller for a great summer read!


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