A quirky coming-of-age story, published in 1976 and newly back in print, from a two-time winner of the Whitbread Award.
Her mother gave her the name Marigold Daisy Green. Then her mother died, and now everyone calls her Bilgewater—a pun on “Bill’s daughter” crafted by her father's students at a boys' school in the remote north of England. Bilgie knows that her dead mother and her glorious name make her seem like a creature from a fairy tale, just as she knows that, with her thick body and thicker specs, she’s no one’s idea of a princess. This doesn’t stop her from daydreaming about the magnificent Jack Rose. Nor does her awareness of her own inadequacies make her in any way jealous of the shockingly resplendent Grace Gathering, a childhood friend who returns—after being kicked out of two posh schools—to the home of her father, who's the school's headmaster. Bilgewater’s adolescence is filled with clichés both ancient and modern. Grace, for example, serves as Bilgie's ideal of the Lady of Shalott: uncommonly beautiful but maybe best dead and safely out of the running. In one weird weekend, Bilgewater will endure a gin-soaked party with Jack Rose’s parents and almost lose her virginity in a garret. But anyone familiar with Gardam’s work will trust the author to know what she’s doing with well-worn tropes. Gardam (God on the Rocks, 2010, etc.) clearly recognizes that motifs persist for a reason: because they conform to fundamental human experiences, because they fulfill basic narrative needs. And she also understands the role that stories might play in the life of a girl being raised by an abstracted, academic father. That said, Bilgewater emerges entirely as herself, a singular first-person narrator in control of her own story.
Female adolescence as imagined by one of the 20th century’s best—and most peculiar—writers.