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July book club

(42 Posts)
CariGransnet (GNHQ) Tue 03-Jul-18 15:05:58

A thread for those who receive a copy of our July book club choice, Old Baggage, to leave their thoughts and their questions for author Lissa Evans. As ever, if you have bought or borrowed a copy you're also very welcome to join the conversation

silverdragon Wed 25-Jul-18 23:37:46

Really enjoying this. Love the boards (has anyone else taken the jacket off?) with the duplicate cover image. Books set in the 1920s and 1930s are one of my favourites, whether mystery or based around true historical times. Immensely readable, the reader gets into this very quickly, and the characterisation is warm. What I would love to know from Lissa Evans is whether she has any suffragettes in her family?

mumofmadboys Fri 27-Jul-18 07:38:43

It took me quite a while to get into this book but once I did it was well worth the efffort. I don't often read historical novels but this was interesting. The two main characters , Mattie and Flea are well drawn and you feel as if you really know them as the book progresses. I love the style of Lissa' s writing. Do you write any contemporary novels,Lisa? Thank you GN and Lissa for a chance to read this great novel

ValC Sat 28-Jul-18 11:59:21

I really enjoyed this book, and can't believe how quickly I read it. The main characters have so much character. and it just shows how one little moment of madness can totally change your life and those around you. I was particularly pleased to see Ida re-appear and to hear she had made such a success of her life, something which would have been nice for the flea to have known.
I would like to ask the author if there was some sort of family connection to the suffragettes where snippets of information had been handed down or was it written purely on research.

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Tue 31-Jul-18 17:07:10

Will be sending the questions over to Lissa very shortly so please, if you got one of our free copies, do add your thoughts or any further questions asap - thank you

Maggiemaybe Thu 02-Aug-18 17:01:39

Thank you again for my copy, and apologies for the late review.

I really enjoyed this book, and found it both moving and witty. The character names, their clothes and speech, descriptions of everyday lives brought the era to life, and it really felt like the inter-war years.

There were plenty of characters to root for, Mattie, the Flea, Ida and various other Amazons and Suffragettes, and plenty of silly and misguided ones that could have done with a kick up the proverbial. Historical details of the Suffragette era are woven into the narrative, and I learnt some interesting things about their struggles that will stay with me. The horror of the cells the women were kept in, for example, and the meaning behind Mattie’s brooches “the miniature grille commemorating her incarcerations; the silver disc bearing the dates of hunger strikes, the pin topped with a chip of flint” that signifies she once chucked stones through plate glass windows. Mattie’s need to engage with young women from all classes who had little interest in politics or the great women of history was plausible and I think very relevant to society today. And some of the author’s descriptions are delicious – Inez, for example, ‘as zestless as a marzipan lemon’. grin Mattie’s fall from grace was unexpected and sad – I felt sorry for her in the fallout from her obsession with her brother’s child.

My only reservation would be that the ending seemed rushed, and didn’t quite ring true for me. Though now I know that this is a prequel to another novel, where Noel apparently features as a major character, I can see why it was necessary. I’m just glad that I’ve got another good read to look forward to, as I haven't read Crooked Heart.

I'd like to ask the author whether there are any plans for a screen version? I very much enjoyed Their Finest, and could see this making a good film too.

LissaEvans. Tue 07-Aug-18 11:48:52

Purpledaffodil

I loved this book and the author’s gentle style. The complex relationship between the two main characters is so finely drawn. I liked the way she wrote of the Flea’s orientation so subtly that I had to go back and reread just to make sure I’d drawn the right conclusions.
I should like to ask the author what made her consider the largely unrecorded history of the suffragettes post women’s suffrage as a basis for a novel. Or perhaps I have answered my own question?
In an advert for a previous book, it refers to Noel her godson, so this appears to be a prequel. Now to read more of this delightful author....

I'm so glad that you enjoyed it! I first wrote about Mattie in the prologue of 'Crooked Heart', which is set in 1940 - the character stayed with me, and I decided to revisit her at an earlier point in her life; I also wanted to explore how Noel ended up living with her. The suffragette era has been so well covered in both fiction and non-fiction that I could think of nothing new to say about it, and I realised that I would much prefer to explore its aftermath - as you mention, much of it is unrecorded, which gave me much more freedom to speculate. It also gave me the chance to write about women my own age, and about friendship between women, and how it endures and changes.

LissaEvans. Tue 07-Aug-18 11:49:32

GrannyBear

I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the characters and I enjoyed the storyline, but most of all I enjoyed Lissa Evans’ use of language throughout the book. Lissa Evans has wonderfully descriptive, perceptive style of writing which immediately brings people, places and events to life.

Mattie, the central character, was ‘born into an era of change’ (page 21). Her personal history lies in the suffragette movement and by 1928, the time in which the novel is set, she feels that she has lost her sense of purpose, ‘I was no longer swimming upstream but treading water’ (page 8). The “Old Baggage” of the title could refer to Mattie herself who has essentially, in others’ eyes, served her purpose, or could refer to the memories of her past which remind her that she no longer has the position and importance of former times.

Three of the central characters, Mattie, Florrie and Inez, are each aptly described in a short word picture. Mattie ‘would never take a shortcut that might avoid the battlefield; she simply couldn’t dissemble, couldn’t mute her own reactions, couldn’t turn a blind eye’ (page 121).

Florrie ‘had grown up in a household where unchecked laughter had been seen as bodily failing, rather like breaking wind’ (page 11).

Inez was ‘utterly vapid, as restless as a marzipan lemon’ (page 139).

Wonderful phrases are scattered throughout the book. Swifts ‘tracing parabolas against a dappled sky’ (page 209); Ida’s tyrant aunt ‘a tigress of rare stripe’ (page 269) and (probably my favourite!!) ‘She stood up, a noise like that of a pepper grinder emanating from both knees’.

In order to regain her sense of purpose, Mattie forms The Amazons, a club for girls with a focus on being outdoors and engaging in physical activity. The storyline follows the progress of the girls, their club and their rivalry with The Empire Youth League. Mattie’s downfall comes when she organises a showdown between the two groups, the aftermath of which is devastating and quite unexpected.

Overall this is a very good read. The book held my attention from the start until the final chapter. I found the update to 1933 rather disappointing. In my view it was unnecessary. I felt it took the storyline in too new a direction and, frankly, seems to have been written only to introduce the possibility of a sequel. I would like to ask Lissa Evans if her intention was to use the final chapter as a trailer for the next instalment of Mattie’s life.

In the prologue to 'Crooked Heart' (which I wrote first), we meet Mattie and Noel in 1940. I hadn't thought about their earlier life at that point, but after I wrote it, I started to wonder how and why they had ended up together; in a way, the whole plot of 'Old Baggage' is an exploration of that question, and the final chapter is the answer!

LissaEvans. Tue 07-Aug-18 11:49:59

NicolaD

Thank you for my copy! It came as a pleasant surprise and I wasn't disappointed with the book at all. I thought it was a wonderful novel; its flowing, seamless style enabled me to jump right in and acquaint myself with the characters: Mattie - energetic, headstrong determined - she bounds onto the page, and Florrie - equally wonderful but quiet and supportive (and with a whisper of a secret). The novel gives a great snapshot of a particular time and place, exploring how a fond memory may not represent the whole truth. I am ready to dive into all Lissa's other novels and would dearly like to know what she has planned for her next book!

Thank you so much! My next book is set in 1944 and will be the sequel to Crooked Heart - so that in the end I will have written a trilogy, albeit in a peculiar order (Book 2, Book 1, Book 3). Noel will be the only character to appear in all three books.

LissaEvans. Tue 07-Aug-18 11:50:42

GeminiJen

Thanks GN and Lissa Evans. Another good read flowers

This is a sharply observed, often comic, but also deeply sad story. Old Baggage - the name cleverly combining an insult that might be used of a woman like Mattie and the idea of clutter from the past dragging one down, are both key themes. The author gives us vignettes, showing Ida bogged down by her passive-aggressive mother who doesn't want her bright daughter to progress any further than she did; or Florrie at her work as a health visitor, trying to ameliorate the desperate tide of poverty and ignorance of the inter-war years.
Yes, there have been improvements. Mattie reflects how "Long ago, as a child in a pinched and stifled century, she had seen her own mother gradually disappear." But despite these, Mattie and Florrie can't, as "unaccompanied" women, be served in a bar; Florrie still cares for wives whose husbands won't have any truck with contraception; and one of her colleagues accepts that, if she marries, she'll have to give up work. Many obstacles remain and perhaps Mattie's frustration at the start of this novel is her sense of that, and of having ceased to push forward, instead recalling old glories and giving her magic-lantern lectures about the struggle. All that old baggage.
With so many books set at the time of women’s suffrage in this, the centenary year, it’s a pleasure to read one which shows life after the achievement of the first votes for women. Coming a century after that achievement, but at a time when the struggle for equality and decent treatment is clearly still ongoing, it's also a salutary read.

My questions for the author:
Did the idea for this book come to you while you were writing Crooked Heart or had you always planned to write a prequel?
And do you have plans to return to these characters, telling us more about Ida’s or Inez's future perhaps, or more about Noel?

When I came to the end of Crooked Heart, I straightaway thought that I'd like to write a sequel - but readers kept asking me about Mattie: what was her background? how did Noel come to live with her? I realised that I had to answer that question before I could go on to write something else. I've now (at last) started on the sequel to Crooked Heart, set in 1944; Noel is one of the central characters, but I'm not quite sure yet which of the others we'll meet again, (though we'll certainly find out more about Ida. )

LissaEvans. Tue 07-Aug-18 11:51:10

silverdragon

Really enjoying this. Love the boards (has anyone else taken the jacket off?) with the duplicate cover image. Books set in the 1920s and 1930s are one of my favourites, whether mystery or based around true historical times. Immensely readable, the reader gets into this very quickly, and the characterisation is warm. What I would love to know from Lissa Evans is whether she has any suffragettes in her family?

Oh yes - I think of the board cover as a sort of secret bonus! I'm so glad that you enjoyed the book; there were no suffragettes in my family, though my Dad's mother (born in about 1890) was a miner's wife, and fiercely socialist; when she came to live with us in her old age, she was horrified that all her contemporaries in our Surrey village had been in service, and voted Tory!

LissaEvans. Tue 07-Aug-18 11:52:54

mumofmadboys

It took me quite a while to get into this book but once I did it was well worth the efffort. I don't often read historical novels but this was interesting. The two main characters , Mattie and Flea are well drawn and you feel as if you really know them as the book progresses. I love the style of Lissa' s writing. Do you write any contemporary novels,Lisa? Thank you GN and Lissa for a chance to read this great novel

I'm so pleased that you enjoyed 'Old Baggage'. The first two books that I wrote - 'Spencer's List' and 'Odd One Out' - are roughly contemporary (set in the 1990s) - as are all my children's books, including 'Wed Wabbit'.

LissaEvans. Tue 07-Aug-18 11:53:23

ValC

I really enjoyed this book, and can't believe how quickly I read it. The main characters have so much character. and it just shows how one little moment of madness can totally change your life and those around you. I was particularly pleased to see Ida re-appear and to hear she had made such a success of her life, something which would have been nice for the flea to have known.
I would like to ask the author if there was some sort of family connection to the suffragettes where snippets of information had been handed down or was it written purely on research.

Thank you so much for this - I'm thrilled that you enjoyed 'Old Baggage'. No, there were no suffragettes in my family, but I've read a lot about the era over the years, and I spent about 6 months researching intensively before I started writing it; I actually found it more difficult to write about the 1920s than the suffragette era - it's less defined and specific, and I had to try and get the 'feel' of it. I ended up reading a lot of novels and diaries written during the era, which helped with the vocabulary and phrasing.

LissaEvans. Tue 07-Aug-18 16:44:40

Maggiemaybe

Thank you again for my copy, and apologies for the late review.

I really enjoyed this book, and found it both moving and witty. The character names, their clothes and speech, descriptions of everyday lives brought the era to life, and it really felt like the inter-war years.

There were plenty of characters to root for, Mattie, the Flea, Ida and various other Amazons and Suffragettes, and plenty of silly and misguided ones that could have done with a kick up the proverbial. Historical details of the Suffragette era are woven into the narrative, and I learnt some interesting things about their struggles that will stay with me. The horror of the cells the women were kept in, for example, and the meaning behind Mattie’s brooches “the miniature grille commemorating her incarcerations; the silver disc bearing the dates of hunger strikes, the pin topped with a chip of flint” that signifies she once chucked stones through plate glass windows. Mattie’s need to engage with young women from all classes who had little interest in politics or the great women of history was plausible and I think very relevant to society today. And some of the author’s descriptions are delicious – Inez, for example, ‘as zestless as a marzipan lemon’. grin Mattie’s fall from grace was unexpected and sad – I felt sorry for her in the fallout from her obsession with her brother’s child.

My only reservation would be that the ending seemed rushed, and didn’t quite ring true for me. Though now I know that this is a prequel to another novel, where Noel apparently features as a major character, I can see why it was necessary. I’m just glad that I’ve got another good read to look forward to, as I haven't read Crooked Heart.

I'd like to ask the author whether there are any plans for a screen version? I very much enjoyed Their Finest, and could see this making a good film too.

I think that 'Old Baggage' might be better as tv than film - I'd love the story to be spread over several episodes. We're in early talks at the moment, so fingers crossed...

Maggiemaybe Tue 07-Aug-18 18:28:45

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my question. I’d love to see the TV version, so will keep my fingers crossed too.

GeminiJen Wed 08-Aug-18 10:53:14

Thanks from me too.
Will now read Crooked Heart...and look out for the third in the series smile
flowers

Eskay10 Sat 11-Aug-18 09:48:58

I received my gifted copy and was happily surprised. However, I did struggle to get into it properly. But now having seen other readers’ comments I shall revisit it.