Old Lovegood Girls by Gail Godwin
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication date: May 5, 2020
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No one could be more surprised than me to be back again this week with another slower paced, character driven novel, but here I am. Gail Godwin’s Old Lovegood Girls is the story of Feron and Meredith (who goes by Merry), two young women who meet when they are fortuitously matched as roommates at Lovegood College, an all-girls Southern school. They are an unlikely pair who ultimately follow very different paths, but Godwin’s gentle storytelling illustrates the enduring nature of friendship in a journey that spans from the late 1950s until 2001.
Merry is a kind, outgoing girl, the beloved daughter of a wealthy tobacco farmer. She’s never been away from home and misses her family immediately. Feron is quiet and wary, with a rich uncle paying for her schooling. When she and Merry begin easing their way into each other’s confidence, she relays a story of a dead mother, an abusive stepfather, and running away from home. The two share a love of learning and writing and are already close friends by the end of their first semester. But the tables turn and it is Merry whose life is beset with tragedy. She doesn’t return to Lovegood and the two go a decade without being in touch. When they do reconnect, the circumstances of each of their lives makes for sporadic communications and lost opportunities.
This might not seem like the basis for a novel about a lifelong friendship, but as a woman who’s been blessed with friendships of all shapes and sizes throughout my life, there was much recognizable in both women. Merry is calmness and compassion, a giver. It is she who continues reaching out to Feron while Feron, for her part, does not find closeness comes naturally to her. She loves her friend, but has more difficulty in translating emotion into action. There are gaps in the friendship when, in the pre-Internet world, letters are written, but not sent, phone calls left unmade.
At the same time, this is a novel of women’s lives. Especially the interior landscape of love, ambition, loss, and finding balance within ourselves. Much of the novel was welcome reading, but there were some stylistic choices on Godwin’s part that felt old-fashioned and disrupted the rhythm. They were not enough to change my opinion, but in these times when each reader’s needs are so different the pace and style may be too stately for some. If a quiet rumination on simpler times and the multilayered beauty of friendship feel like what you need then you’ll be touched by the tenderness in Old Lovegood Girls.
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