I’ve been reading Mr. Allenby Loses The Way by Frank Baker, author of my much-loved Miss Hargreaves, and I’ve even been able to call it work – hopefully it’ll be useful for the chapter I’m writing at the moment. It’s about a man who is given five wishes by a fairy… but nowhere near as twee as that sounds. Anyway, this isn’t a review of the novel (not least because I’ve only read the first 50 pages) but something else entirely. I was merrily reading along, when I came across this seemingly incidental piece of dialogue:
“All snatches of overheard conversation have something of interest in them. I once listened to an elderly lady who travelled with me in the same carriage from Bath to Cornford, telling her neighbour about a creature called ‘Agatha.’ But who, or what, was Agatha? I never discovered; I never wanted to discover.”
Does that mean anything to you?
Perhaps, even probably, not. You haven’t read Miss Hargreaves six times; you don’t love its every word with the passion that I do. But maybe you do remember that it was set in Cornford; that Miss Hargreaves arrived on a train from Bath; that Norman made up Agatha and was told she was “sinking”, without ever knowing what sort of animal/person Agatha was…
Sorry if that was gibberish for those of you who haven’t read Miss Hargreaves (if you haven’t, I’ll want to know a VERY good reason why you haven’t). But I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to see her mentioned in this novel, published six years after Miss Hargreaves. It’s my favourite novel, and she is my favourite of all characters – any small sign that she broke out of the bounds of her book delights me. It was so unexpected, and a treat for those with keen eyes and a good memory. Or, y’know, a borderline obsession with Miss H.
Have you ever come across this? A character slipping outside their book and popping up in another? Not in a series, that’s no surprise, but a brief waft past, like this – a little gift from the author to the observant reader. Hmm?