“The correct pronunciation of her name is, of course, ‘Hargrayves’. Astonishing as it must seem, there exist people who refer to her as Miss ‘Hargreeves’. Doubtless they belong to the ranks of those who ‘Macleen’ their teeth”
There are so many tangents I want to go off on tonight but I’m going to try very hard to stick with the book and leave the wider musings for another day. I’ve been in a book group (on line) with Simon from Stuck-In-A-Book for quite a while, and for quite a while he’s been recommending this book (strongly recommending at that). His enthusiasm for it was such that he’s managed to get it back in print with the Bloomsbury Group project, which I think I’m safe in saying, is very enthusiastic indeed. Dutiful to instruction I bought a copy but it came with such a weight of expectation attached that I’ve been unwilling to read it. I find nothing more of putting than the words ‘you must read this’, especially when followed by ‘You’ll love it’ (credit to Simon he said neither, though he did come down strong on buying it).
Reservations caused by strong recommendations aside I found the amazon description vaguely intriguing, but not must read stuff – or at least not of the stuff I normally feel I must read - what swung me in the end was how much I’ve enjoyed the other Bloomsbury Group books and it turns out I was right to trust both Simon and Bloomsbury.
‘Miss Hargreaves’ is an extraordinary book, and somehow not really what I expected, much darker in fact than I imagined. Two friends, both prone to flights of fancy, find themselves in an exceptionally ugly church whilst sheltering from the rain. In a harmless kind of way they make up a little old lady complete with travelling hip bath, parrot, harp and lapdog. The joke carries on when they write her a letter, and she not only replies, but turns up in person to stay, complete with travelling hip bath, parrot, lapdog and harp.
So Miss Hargreaves is born, and the mystery of what she is and where she comes from deepens – naturally nobody believes she’s made up. Not even her makers entirely accept that at first, meanwhile as she becomes more real she becomes more powerful until one dreadful night when she is endowed with a title (attitude to match) and cast of by her chief creator. No longer subject to his creative whims she uses her independence to wreak havoc upon his life, and he poor boy, cannot accept that he’s no longer in control of what he feels is his.
Norman and Henry’s (the Hargreaves perpetrators) biggest problem is the affection they feel for their masterpiece. She charms as much as she infuriates which makes it hard to take the necessary firm line; it’s partly hubris, and partly sympathy for an elderly and vulnerable being. The reader feels the same because Norman and Henry are far from perfect and they rather deserve Miss Hargreaves.
I really fell for the book on page 13 with this paragraph
“Suddenly the sexton whipped aside the dust sheet and disclosed the lectern, obviously a favourite of his. We saw an avaricious-looking brass fowl with one eye cocked sideways as though it feared somebody were going to bag the Bible – or perhaps as though it hoped somebody were going to. You couldn’t quite tell; it had an ambiguous expression.”
It’s a book I know I’ll read again and again for just such passages.
It also has a fresh dashed off feel as if conception to page was the work of a moment. Norman who narrates rants and goes off into flights about music and books which makes it all the more real which is good going for a book about what happens when the created character steps off the page and goes their own way; a dilemma I imagine most writers are familiar with.
Anyway I won’t tell you ‘you must read this’, but I will confirm that I liked it quite a lot (loved it), and definitely say that it’s a very hard book to quantify – you need to open it to get a real idea of it, and I would very strongly recommend that course of action...