“I abominate fuss…” (50 Books…)

4. Miss Hargreaves – Frank Baker

(for my more recent, longer review of this book – click here)
Ok, The Provincial Lady was the most representative of my reading tastes, perhaps – but if you only read one book I recommend, let this one be it. It will change your life – honest. (Only very *slightly* over the top…) I can’t think of a novel which compares; Miss Hargreaves is truly in a class of its own.

Norman and his friend Henry are on holiday in Lusk – on a dull day they wander into a church, and have to make conversation with an even duller verger. On the spur of the moment, Norman says he has a shared acquaintance with the parish’s old vicar – and that acquaintance is one Miss Hargreaves. She’s nearly ninety, carries a hip flask, bath and cockatoo with her everywhere, not to mention Sarah the dog. Continuing the joke, they send a letter to her supposed hotel, asking if she’d like to come and stay. When Miss Constance Hargreaves arrives on a train, Norman has some explaining to do, and the strange occurences are just beginning…

It is a cliche of criticism, but Miss Hargreaves genuinely did make me both laugh and cry – and pretty much every emotion in between. I thought the theme would pall, but Baker keeps the momentum going for every page, and I never wanted it to end. And though this is without doubt Connie’s book, the secondary characters are also wonderful – especially Norman’s bookshop-owning father, Mr. Huntley. As my friend Curzon recently said “what a joyous book! I loved every moment” – in fact, don’t just take our words for it. I have forced – apologies, suggested – this book to so many people, probably two dozen, and only one has not raved. If you’ve liked any of the other books I’ve mentioned, I guarantee you’ll love this. And you’re in hallowed company – Elaine at Random Jottings, Lisa at Blue Stalking, Ruth at Crafty People, and Lynne at dovegreyreader are all fanatics. Check out this post, for dovegreyreader’s mention of the novel, back in May 2006. I’ve very cheekily commented on it again, to thrust it up into the Recent Comments section.

Ok. Here’s the bad news. It’s quite difficult to get a hold of. It is in print – see the picture – but that is a £30 edition from Tartarus Press. I have a copy (though that picture isn’t mine – all three of my editions are tucked away at home), and you may well not be able to resist it – but £30 is quite a lot to gamble. There was a Penguin edition – one of those nice orange-striped ones – so check out sites like www.addall.com for them, but the dovegreybooks@yahoogroups.co.uk have just done a group read, and the interweb may have a paucity of them right now. Do keep trying! I would offer mine for loan, but they’re in Somerset at the moment, and a little too close to my heart…
I’ve stolen the second picture (another edition I have) from www.briansibley.com, a fellow fan, who has some interesting things to say, and a link to the official Frank Baker website. Brian also wrote a rather fun radio adaptation, a cassette of which I managed to persuade an archive site to make for me. I played it too often, and it’s not working very well now… but I still have the novel to keep me company. I’ve read it three times now, and I can’t see any reason why I won’t read it another thirty. Possibly my favourite novel. I do hope I’ll get the legions to come advocate it in the comments!

Hope you like my colouring-in…

12 thoughts on ““I abominate fuss…” (50 Books…)

  • April 20, 2007 at 6:37 am
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    Me too, me too. Put me on the list of people who rave about it. Guess who FORCED me to read it? I have one of the orange and white Penguin editions.

  • April 20, 2007 at 8:27 am
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    I just looked for it and found it on abebooks.co.uk — I got the least expensive copy but there are quite a few left. 1st editions are going for over £100, I see! Really looking forward to this — thanks, Simon.

  • April 20, 2007 at 8:57 am
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    How has this one passed me by? Must try and get hold of it.

  • April 21, 2007 at 2:14 pm
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    I have the Tartarus Press edition and though I jibbed a bit at £30 I am very glad that Simon talked me into it. I won’t say FORCED as I gave in very quickly. WOnderful book and should be more widely known

  • April 21, 2007 at 8:12 pm
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    Dear old Miss H and her hip bath, yes I shelled out for the Tartarus and it’s worth every penny.My Penguin went off around the dovegrey online list and never found its way back, anyone still got it???

  • April 21, 2007 at 8:13 pm
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    I’m not sure why I’ve become a knitter not a reader on here, bit of multi-tasking again.

  • April 24, 2007 at 1:51 pm
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    I’ve just found a Penguin copy on ebay – yippee!!

  • May 18, 2007 at 8:15 pm
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    Too bad Persephone wouldn’t publish this, but perhaps the other publisher has the rights? I have not looked, so I am not sure I can find it easily over here. Will be checking this one out! Of course there is always ILL!

  • February 26, 2009 at 3:41 pm
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    I see that Bloomsbury is about to reissue this novel. I’ll be sure to get a copy as soon as it becomes available in the States. It sounds wonderful.

  • March 13, 2010 at 12:54 pm
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    Ordered this book after reading your review here and just finished it. Easy, pleasant reading in a style that just makes you want to keep going on. I just loved the English!

  • October 7, 2011 at 2:28 pm
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    At 1:11 into this short film about book collecting you can see the first edition of Miss Hargreaves in her original jacket…:-)

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