Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Miss Hargreaves

Miss Hargreaves. Frank Baker. 1940/2009. Bloomsbury. 336 pages.

From the prologue: 'Miss Hargreaves-' I murmured. 'Miss Hargreaves-?' I leant over the rail and looked into the darkness of the Irish Sea. It was night. The lights of our boat were the only lights upon the black water. No answer came from the sea as I murmured that name. And yet, it seemed to me that very faintly in the cold December air, in the wind, I could hear the sighing of my own name. 'Norman - Norman- Norman -'

From chapter one: When I wrote essays at school I was always told to begin at the beginning and end at the end. I'm not at all sure that this story has an end. As for a beginning - well, in my opinion, it really begins - as I began - with my father. Anyway, that's where I'm going to start.

I loved this one. I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this one. I will tell you what it is about. And I will try to convey just how much I loved it -- and why. And I hope to convince you to give it a chance -- at least. But I'll start with why I picked it up. I saw this one in the new books at the library. I was drawn to the cover. But. What really made me take it home was this jacket description:
When, on the spur of a moment, Norman Huntley and his friend Henry invent an eighty-three-year-old woman called Miss Hargreaves, they are inspired to mail a letter to their new fictional friend. It is only meant to be a silly, harmless game--until she arrives on their doorstep. She is, to Norman's utter disbelief, exactly as he had imagined her: eccentric and endlessly astounding. He hadn't imagined, however, how much havoc an imaginary octogenarian could wreak on his sleeping Buckinghamshire town. Norman has some explaining to do, but how will he begin to explain to his friends, family, and girlfriend where Miss Hargreaves came from when he hasn't the faintest clue himself? Will his once-ordinary, once-peaceful life ever be the same again? And, what's more, does he want it to be?
After reading that description, how could I not take it home? It screamed read me, read me, read me! (To be honest, even one read me would have worked. After all, I take home many books each week! Still, I knew this one would have to be read.)

So what is it about? It's about Norman. A young man who has a way with words! He's creative, imaginative, a real storyteller. It's not that he lies--not all the time--but he invents the truth as he goes along. Blending truth and fiction--at times. As I said, it's not like he never tells the truth. Seeing Norman interact with his father--oh, how I loved them both--you can see why Norman is the way he is. When Norman and Henry, his best friend, are on holiday, they stumble into an old church. Norman protesting all the way, mind you. But on this impromptu tour, these two invent an old woman, Miss Constance Hargreaves. The man giving the tour believes them--of course, why should he suspect them?--he believes their tale of this woman who was a childhood friend of the dearly departed Mr. Archer, even asks them for her address. The two are having such a great time with this joke that they take her with them when they go. Throughout the rest of their holiday, they continue telling stories about her. They imagine what sort of life she's led, where she'd be living, give her hobbies and pets, etc. In another "spur of the moment" they write her a letter. In this letter, they even ask her to come visit! It's nonsense pure and simple. But nonsense with consequence as Norman learns!

When Norman returns home, he learns just how big a mistake he's made. For he learns that she is coming. There is a Miss Constance Hargreaves coming to visit him! Is truth stranger than fiction? Is Miss Hargreaves a real woman? Or is she Norman's creation?
I walked home about ten with very mixed feelings. Perhaps I ought to try to tell you about them, otherwise you'll be running away with the idea that this is meant to be a funny book. It is not; it is a very serious book; it is an account of the most amazing thing that ever happened to me, a thing that altered the whole course of my life. So please keep that clear. And remember it's true; I haven't made a thing up -- except Miss Hargreaves in the first case. (76)
Mrs. Huntley's description of Miss Hargreaves:
Miss Hargreaves is a fantastic person. You know, I can't help liking her. Of course, I can easily understand how difficult it must be for you, Norman dear. I think one would get quite fond of her, and yet never want to set eyes on her again. (151)
Is it a funny book? It's a witty book. I enjoyed that aspect of it very much. But it isn't only that. Norman's quite right about that! It's quirky and creepy. Miss Hargreaves and Norman would definitely feel right at home in The Twilight Zone.

What did I like about this one? I loved so many things about it! The characters. The relationships. The premise. The story. It just worked really well for me! I found it very compelling! I found it difficult to put down. It's wonderfully quirky and deliciously sinister.

I would definitely recommend this one! I loved it so much and I would love to see other readers pick this one up! Miss Hargreaves deserves to be widely read!

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

7 comments:

TwoBibliomaniacs 11:13 AM  

Wow, what an intriguing read! We’re definitely going to check it out.

Melissa 11:33 AM  

This sounds really good. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Great review~

Anonymous,  1:29 PM  

Sounds like a truly wonderful book - and I don't think I've even heard of it before... Thanks, Becky!:)L.

Brittanie 8:12 PM  

I just added it to my Paperback Swap wish list. :)

Suko 8:14 PM  

This sounds absolutely enchanting, Becky! Your enthusiasm has been conveyed and I will add Miss Hargreaves to my TBR stack--but give it priority status! :)

StuckInABook 5:13 AM  

What a lovely review, Becky! I get Google alerts for 'Miss Hargreaves' as I'm always excited when other people discover her for the first time. I was the blogger who suggested it to Bloomsbury to reprint, as it's one of my all time favourite novels, and I was SO pleased when they said yes. Reviews like yours just make it even better!
Simon

betweenthesepages 5:27 PM  

You've convinced me! I'm adding it to my to-read list right now!

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Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
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I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

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