Appropriate in many ways for today (Saturday when I started writing...) I’ve been to London to meet some other book bloggers, an experience that was every bit as enjoyable as I hoped (it seems book bloggers are charming and interesting people), but as with any such gathering a lot of it is about making conversation and trying to get the balance right between talking too much and not talking at all. Oh, and as we met in the Persephone book shop, during Persephone reading week, hw could I have been reading anything but Persephone's?
Fortunately meeting people who all have a shared interest makes conversation easy, but most of growing up is rendered hideous by getting it wrong and not really understanding why. ‘Making Conversation’ flummoxed me a bit because it was described as a funny book, and in all fairness, apart from one moment when I laughed that’s not how I found it. I’m wondering if I would have found it funnier if I wasn’t waiting to be amused – maybe I would, or perhaps the memory of so many excruciating conversations in my own past haven’t been dulled enough yet.
‘Making Conversation’ is a history of Martha Freke from childhood to the untimely end of her university career and her first steps out into the world. I found the details of university life for women students just after the First World War (bit of a mouthful that) the most interesting part of the book. A combination of absolutely recognisable situations, or more accurately, conversations (especially regarding joining societies), and an insight into a world that was so desperately prescriptive for women that wearing the wrong hat could ruin your reputation and to be seen talking to male students in public could lead to being sent down in disgrace.
The limited Christine Longford bio I read makes her sound thoroughly fascinating; that’s what made me want to read ‘Making Conversation’ but I can’t escape a nagging feeling that the books I really want to read by her are the Irish novels that came later, or maybe even a good biography. I’m assuming that a lot of ‘Making Conversation’ is autobiographical but I couldn’t help but feel I only had a part of the picture, and background at that. Very little sense of Martha as a person emerged from the book – understandable given that she’s so young and her behaviour is so carefully monitored – how much personality could emerge in a young woman watched so carefully at home, school, and university? It’s only in the last few pages when she sets off having been cut loose from most of her ties (hopefully not too much of a spoiler) that I could imagine a story about what she does rather than what happens to her.