Review: Gypsy, Gypsy, Rumer Godden

Okay, I’m going to ruin the whole plot of this book for your sake to save you from reading it yourself and possibly judging Rumer Godden based on this book which you should not, she is actually wonderful. She just is not wonderful here.

Gypsy Gypsy is about this girl called Henrietta who lives with her mean aunt Barbe. Yes, the lady’s name is Barbe, and she’s very sarcastic to everybody. It is a trifle on the nose, and I’d like to make some excuse for Rumer Godden like she was only 33 when this book was published, but you know what, Alexander had conquered the whole Mediterranean by the time he was 33, so no pass for Rumer Godden! Henrietta has a boyfriend but inexplicably refuses to marry him because she — I don’t know why, this is never explained. I guess she isn’t yet ready to leave her life of weird, awkward servitude to her amoral aunt Barbe. Aunt Barbe owns a fancy mansion and all the peasant folk hate her. You keep thinking they’re going to rebel against her and come raid the mansion Beauty and the Beast style, but they never do and this plot point doesn’t really come to anything.

Aunt Barbe is a sour old cow, and one day over dinner she tells Henrietta how in the olden days they thought that having sex with a virgin would cure you of diseases, and Barbe has the brilliant idea that maybe you could apply this same basic principle to a diseased soul. She figures if she can corrupt a purely innocent soul, she’ll be clean again, instead of being a miserable bitch that everyone hates. So she starts being really nice to this gypsy family that she lets move onto her land, and everyone’s like, “Hey, no, don’t invite gypsies here, they’re bad news!” Aunt Barbe gives the gypsy kids candy and plays stupid games with them, but because she’s doing this from a malicious motive, it ends up ruining their lives. Henrietta keeps fluttering about going “They were happy before! Stop giving them candy!” but nobody listens to Henrietta because she’s a cipher of fluttery nothing. Then Aunt Barbe shames the gypsy father about his poverty, and he stabs Aunt Barbe’s old Nanny in the neck (yeah, she still has a Nanny. I know, right?), but they all work really hard to get him off the murder charge. Nobody ever hesitates about helping a guy who stabbed an old lady in the neck get off a murder charge. He gets convicted of a lesser charge, and everyone’s unhappy about everything. The end.

I will start by saying, because I love Rumer Godden and I want you to think well of her, that she wrote a book called The Diddakoi later in her life, about a little gypsy orphan girl. The Diddakoi is pretty merciless to the characters who are prejudiced against gypsies. So I know that Rumer Godden does not really think that gypsies are a) pure innocent souls in the wilderness of the world or b) dirty scum of the earth thieves.

Next I will say that when Rumer Godden got the idea for a book about a woman who tries the spiritual version of deflowering a virgin to get rid of disease, Oscar Wilde stood on the edge of heaven and screamed and lamented for two straight years because he had not thought of it first. This is such an Oscar Wilde idea in a Rumer Godden book, and that — though I love them both dearly — is not a recipe for success. I mean Aunt Barbe is basically a less lazy, female Sir Henry Wotton. Oscar Wilde would have done this book much better than Rumer Godden, but he didn’t have the chance because he died at forty-six and never was able to have this idea and write it into a book that would have been much better that Rumer Godden’s rotten book.

And finally, I will say what I was thinking this whole book long, which is, What the hell, Rumer Godden?

Never read Gypsy Gypsy. It’s awful, and it doesn’t even have the compensatory positive of being written in that excellent, distinctive style that Rumer Godden has. Traces of her style are visible, but they’re hidden behind a black cloud of smoggy awfulness.

29 thoughts on “Review: Gypsy, Gypsy, Rumer Godden

  1. I always find it reassuring when great authors have off days (or months). Makes me feel better about the idiotic posts I put up sometimes. I do think, though, that as usual you have hit on a brilliant idea for a blog post series of dreadful books that would have been so much better written by someone else. There must be loads of novels that would be appropriate!

  2. Ok, this review is exactly why I love you, Jenny. It’s so fresh and funny, and for Gods sake! Stop giving the gypsy children candy! I won’t be reading this one, so the spoilers don’t bother me, but it does sound very weird and strange. I also agree that Wilde would have loved the idea of purifying your soul through sexual congress with a virgin. Would have loved to have read THAT book!

  3. I will take your word for it and stay away from this one, especially as I’m still looking for my next Rumer Godden love… and this one probably most definitely isn’t it.

  4. I’m a fan of some, but by no means all, of Godden’s books (In this House of Brede is one of my desert island books, for instance). Mercifully I have never read this one. I am pretty sure I never will, thanks to your warning!

  5. This is hilarious. And the part Oscar Wilde wishes he had written makes me think of a scene in The Book of Mormon (the musical, of course, not the actual book) involving frogs.

  6. He died at *forty-six* without having thought of this plot? Alexander had conquered the Mediterranean by the time he was 33! No pass for Oscar Wilde!

  7. Okay, so what Rumer Godden book should I read? I just read “Four Dolls” to my four-year-old and she loved it, but I was less than impressed. Is “In This House of Brede” as awesome as everyone says it is?

  8. OK…I understand that I should not read Gypsy, Gypsy. If I were to read Rumer Godden, which book would be a good place to start?

    I wonder if Rumer Willis has ever read Rumer Godden.

    • If you want a kids’ book, Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. Any of her kids’ books, really, but that one’s particularly good. Otherwise, A Candle for St. Jude.

      I think Rumer Willis may actually be named after Rumer Godden. I wouldn’t swear to it but I feel like I read that somewhere.

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