Oh my, have I discovered a treasure trove in the work of Gail Godwin. How have I never read any of her books? Well, there’s nothing like making up for lost time! According to her website, she’s written fourteen novels and she even has a new one out at this very moment.
Clearly, there are many ways to be introduced to Gail Godwin’s novels. Mine happens to be Father Melancholy’s Daughter, which was originally published in 1991 and is set in the 1970s and 1980s, thus giving rise to uneasy contemplation on my part about what constitutes contemporary fiction versus classic fiction. Fortunately, Godwin’s work has been nominated for enough prizes and has enough critical acclaim that I feel justified in ignoring all that murky speculation and calling this “literary fiction.” I am sure many readers out there will be okay with that. And Gail Godwin writes beautifully, I hasten to add. Yes, “literary fiction” for sure!
Godwin begins the story of a young girl named Margaret Gower, the daughter of an Episcopalian minister and his much younger wife, Ruth, on a certain day in 1972 when Margaret is six. Chapter One, called “Morning,” is poignant, both in the details as seen through the eyes of a child and in the foreshadowing of significant change that is to come in the life of the Gower family. I’m not going to tell you what that significant change is, because Godwin unfolds the events in such a stately, deliberate, beautiful style that I don’t want to spoil the artistry.
So I’ll talk about the style instead of the plot. The book is meditative, introspective, and of course the story is told in first person from Margaret’s point of view. Religion, especially Christianity, plays a large role in the story and the lives of the characters. It’s remarkable to me how beautiful the settings and the characters are; along with the depth of the themes that develop in the story.
I hope you get out to the library and meet Gail Godwin, too. I’m already wondering which book of hers I should read next.
Just to make it easier, here is one of the three Godwin books nominated for the National Book Award:
And here is the sequel to Father Melancholy’s Daughter:
And finally, here is Gail Godwin’s latest book, out just this year: