Old Lovegood Girls is the latest novel from Gail Godwin, author of Flora and Grief Cottage (read a guest post from Godwin about that novel here). It follows two girls paired as roommates at Lovegood College for Girls in 1958 and their friendship that spans decades.
Merry Jellicoe, heir to a successful family tobacco farm in North Carolina, has a nearly perfect life. The worst thing that ever happened to her was her dog dying. Feron Hood, on the other hand, has a troubled family history that has left her guarded and secretive. She arrived at Lovegood after running away from her abusive stepfather, landing on her uncle’s doorstep.
Despite their opposite lives and personalities, Merry and Feron are fast friends, each finding something she needs in the other. They are united by Lovegood traditions and a mutual admiration for their literature and composition teacher, Miss Petrie. All is well until unexpected tragedy strikes Merry’s family at the end of the semester. Merry never returns to Lovegood. Ten years go by before Feron and Merry see each other again, but no matter how many times they drift apart, the girls always manage to pick up where they left off.
Old Lovegood Girls is definitely a literary novel, with descriptions of the writing process and allusions to Chekhov’s short stories. Writing is one element of the undercurrent of competition in their friendship. After reading one of Merry’s stories at Lovegood, Feron discovers something about herself: “She was goaded by someone else’s success.” Jealousy rose inside her, driving her to write something better than Merry. Years later, when Feron reads a story by Merry in a magazine, her internal competition with her friend spurs her into what eventually becomes a successful writing career.
For a novel about a friendship, the book contains remarkably few scenes with the girls in each other’s company. Instead, readers spend more time in their minds, seeing how they continue to influence the other’s lives. The result is that the audience does not get to see exactly how they interact as friends. This either adds to the mystery of their friendship, or it creates a real sense of confusion. The result is that the novel can sometimes feel less like a story of lifelong friendship and more like one of missed opportunities for connection.
If you are looking for a fast-paced read, this may not be the novel for you. But if you are looking for a story of lifelong connection that survives through tragedy and misfortune, you may find yourself charmed by Old Lovegood Girls.
Old Lovegood Girls is one of our 2020 Summer Reads. Find our full Summer Reading List here.