The Garnett Girls by Georgina Moore
Published by HQ Stories on February 16th 2023
Available from West End Lane Books and All Good Bookshops
What They Say
A brilliant debut and powerful tale of sisterhood and home, set on the beautiful beaches of the Isle of Wight…
Flawed, complicated, secretive, big-hearted, you’ll fall in love with the Garnett girls. Margo and Richard’s love affair was the stuff legends are made of – forbidden, passionate, all-encompassing. But ultimately, doomed. When Richard walked out, Margo shut herself away from the world, leaving her three daughters, Rachel, Imogen and Sasha, to run wild.
Having finally put the past behind her, the charismatic Margo holds court in her cottage on the Isle of Wight, refusing to ever speak of Richard. But her silence is keeping each of the Garnett girls from finding true happiness. The eldest, Rachel, is desperate to return to London, but is held hostage by responsibility for Sandcove, their beloved but crumbling family home. Imogen, the dreamy middle child, feels the pressure to marry her kind, considerate fiance, even when her life is taking an unexpected turn. And wild, passionate Sasha, the baby, trapped between her increasingly alienated family and her controlling husband, has unearthed the secret behind Richard’s departure… and when she reveals it, the effects are devastating.
Set on the beautiful beaches of the Isle of Wight, The Garnett Girls asks whether children can ever be free of the mistakes their parents make.
What I Say
Honestly? As soon as I heard that Georgina Moore was writing a novel, I wanted to read it, because book blogging is the very reason that we met, and as a brilliant supporter of bloggers, Georgina not only sends me fabulous books, but we have found over the years that our reading tastes are very very similar.
Honestly? When I knew that Georgina was very kindly going to send me a proof copy, I was nervous, because this would be a book written by someone I knew, and what would I do if it wasn’t for me?
Readers, let me tell you, that as soon as I started reading it, I knew that The Garnett Girls was not only going to be fabulous, it was just the novel I needed to read at that moment.
Margo is the matriarch of the Garnett family. Confident, engaging, unapologetic in asking for what she wants – and usually getting it, she knows who she is and what she needs, and she also is embracing life and sex, while all the time overseeing her family and getting involved in their lives.
Rachel, her eldest daughter, and her husband Gabriel, now live in Sandycove, the Garnett family home on the Isle of Wight, while Margo lives in a cottage nearby referred to as The Other Place. Rachel misses the life and vibrancy of her work and life in London, and is not enjoying being at Sandycove with all the duties and responsibilities it brings. Gabriel, who gets on famously with Margo, and runs the house while she works, also seems to be drifting from Rachel, and seems more interested in his phone than talking to her.
Imogen is a playwright, engaged to William – more from duty than because she loves him, and when she meets Rowan, the actress who will be the lead in her play, Imogen realises that she is incredibly attracted to her. It is the intensity and power of her relationship with Rowan that will cause Imogen to question everything she thought she knew, but we also see that Rowan’s need to be front and centre of Imogen -and indeed everyone’s world, makes Imogen realise that she has some really difficult choices to make.
Sasha, the youngest child, seems to be moving further and further away from her family. Her husband Phil is to be far too involved in her life and is controlling her world more and more, and Sasha is losing her sense of self at home, living for the times she can escape from her house and her marriage however briefly. When Sasha decides to look into her past, she sets off a chain of events that threatens to blow the family apart.
As the lives of the women are firmly at the forefront of this novel, always present in the background are two things. The ever present house, Sandycove, which may be in need of some attention, but every single part of it contains the memories, shared experiences and the good and bad times of the Garnett family. The other issue that is never mentioned is that their father, Richard, abandoned them all when the girls were very young, leaving Margo bereft and broken, unable to look after her daughters for a period of time. When it seems that Richard may come back into their lives, Margo and the girls find their worlds turned upside down, and they also have to look to their own lives to understand that they too have issues that are threatening their own happiness.
What I loved about this novel is the way in which from the very first page you are completely immersed in the world of The Garnett Girls. Sandycove, The Other Place and the Isle of Wight are so vividly brought to life, that you can see and feel every thing – the warmth of the beach, the food they eat, and the comfort and cosiness of Sandycove and the vivid depiction of the characters make it so easy to see them in front of you.
It was also interesting to see how Georgina wrote about sex and sexuality in The Garnett Girls, and so refreshing that age was not seen as a barrier to a woman relishing in her self and desires. Margo has lovers, and acknowledges that she needs to feel desired and to have sex, Rachel is struggling to keep sex alive in her marriage, while Imogen is not sure about her sexuality and Sasha’s unhappy marriage to Phil is no match for the attraction she feels to Jonny, a family friend. The ease with which Georgina wrote about these women and their sexuality felt frank and direct, and for me, made me feel closer to the characters.
The other theme I thought was handled brilliantly by Georgina was the dynamics of family relationships – something I love reading about. For me, I am always intrigued by how even the most seemingly perfect family a can be a myriad of things not said, of words swallowed down to avoid upsetting people, and how refusing to acknowledge a shared trauma a family has been through, like the Garnett Girls, has such an unconscious and wide ranging impact on their lives and relationships. Their lives are often complicated and messy, and I liked how behind closed doors and indeed in front of them, the Garnett family had to deal with it all, in a town where everyone’s business is everyone else’s business.
As Rachel, Imogen and Sasha come to terms with the issues in their own lives, we see how they share the unconscious bonds of sisterhood, being there for each other and trying to navigate their way through a devastating secret that eventually comes to light. I thought it was also interesting to see how Margo had controlled their world so that every trace of their father was eradicated from their narratives, but that she had to reconcile with the fact that her daughters needed to understand and know why their father had made the decisions he did.
The Garnett Girls is a novel that when you have finished it and sat back and thought about it, you realise how much is contained in its pages. There are the mother daughter relationships, the complexities of family life, the secrets that all families have, and the ever changing landscapes of what defines a successful relationship and marriage. However, for me, The Garnett Girls is ostensibly about celebrating women, and Georgina implicitly understands how much we need to see women who are relatable, real and not always perfect. Imogen, Rachel, Sasha and Margo show us that we should not define or restrict our choices, but instead we should be unafraid to articulate what we want or need, and for that reason alone, The Garnett Girls is a timely and utterly enchanting debut novel that I absolutely loved.
Thank you so much to Georgina and HQ Stories for my gifted proof copy.