Monday, September 20, 2010

Review: Miss Hargreaves

Probably most people who read a lot of book blogs have already heard about Frank Baker's Miss Hargreaves from Stuck in a Book. I'm pretty sure he's responsible for the lovely new Bloomsbury Group edition of the book. Having heard so much about the book, when I was going through my to-read list for books to order from the library, I ordered it.

It's a premise that's entirely suited to me. Norman Huntley and his friend Henry are inspired on the Spur of the Moment to invent an eccentric 83-year-old woman called Miss Hargreaves. Just for fun they mail her a letter, but when she shows up in their ordinary cathedral town complete with the cockatoo, dog, harp, and bath with which they have imagined her, things begin to get difficult. Miss Hargreaves is exactly as Norman has pictured her, and what's more, every time he must come up with a new story to explain her inexplicable existence, that story appears to come true also. It's an impossible predicament. She is inconvenient, embarrassing, and demanding, but trying to rid himself of her only causes Norman more problems. She's impossible (in more than one sense of the word), but he likes her.

Myself a master of inventing absurd stories, this book ought to be perfect for me. It wasn't though, not quite. I think I'd heard too much about it, and so formed a vision of it that predictably was not accurate. Perhaps it was the tone of the book or Norman's response to Miss Hargreaves, or Miss Hargreaves herself, that didn't agree with what I wanted the book to be. I'd have written it differently. I'm sorry this happened. I think, had I had no preconceived notions, I'd have loved it. That said, it is a fabulous book. I suspect is is growing on me in the aftermath. It has something to say about creation and creative thought, and that's something which fascinates me. It has a lot of thoroughly funny lines, though it was not a book I especially laughed over. It is a fabulous idea, and if not done the way I'd have done it, done well. I suspect it will also be memorable. It may make me think twice about inventing stories.

Though not perfect for me, it is perhaps perfect in itself, and well worth reading.

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