Saturday, 29 March 2014
Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker
There is a little bit of magic within the pages of this book. The modern term would be magic realism.... but when written back in 1940, probably better described as supernatural. It's a republished classic if you like, in paperback from The Bloomsbury Group who are, like Persephone and others, finding books that should be republished and enjoyed, having been lost for a while. Indeed I see that they are publishing Paul Gallico's Mrs Harris books; a joy I intend to revisit.
Back to Miss Hargreaves (which must be pronounced Hargraves, the author is keen to tell you). Set in the 1930’s, two young men find that a character they have invented over a beer or three has turned up as large as life in their town. But did they just invent her? For here she is, living and breathing, with her little dog, her parrot, and there she goes, causing havoc among the people of the fictional cathedral city Cornford; which could be Winchester, which Baker knew intimately, or Chichester, or Salisbury..... if you know of a cathedral and its staff, its choir, its way of sitting above the town, you will recognise Cornford. It's set around 1930 when Norman and Henry, two young men of the town take a holiday in rural Ireland. Whilst out and about they are caught by a storm in a small country church and, whilst chatting to the sexton (and as youth does, making fun of him without him catching on) they invent Miss Hargreaves. And when the storm clears, on their way to the pub, and of course, in the pub, they fill in their invention. Her age, her looks, her history, her belongings. They love the thought of the old trout so much that they write to a fictitious address and invite her to stay in their town when they get back from their holiday. It comes as rather a shock to Norman, the teller of this tale, to find a telegraph awaiting him at home, acknowledging the invitation, and asking that he meet Miss Hargreaves when she arrives at the railway station!
It did flag a wee bit in the middle, and if this was a new book, I suspect the publisher might have asked the author to cut around 50 pages - but don't be put off. It's easy to read, and is witty and amusing. However, rather like The Monkey's Paw, Norman should be careful what he wishes for.
Recommended as a different kind of read.