Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Miss Mole

It is nice to have someone in my book group who has very similar reading tastes to me. It means I needn't harp on about my choices all the time, I can sit back and let Miss Mole (1930) by EH Young be selected, without even having to suggest it myself. Thanks Ruth! This was my first EH Young (of the three or four which have found their way to my bookshelves) but it definitely won't be my last. AND Miss Mole won the James Tait Black Award, which is generally a better guide for good books than any of the other major book awards.

Miss Mole is a fairly mischievous forty-something who seeks work as a housekeeper. She embarrasses her cousin Lilla, who is from the 'better' side of the family, into finding her a position with a nonconformist minister Robert Corder, his daughters Ethel and Ruth, and their cousin Wilfred. Miss Mole's defence against the potential boredom of her life is concealing her lively and humorous character behind a facade of the dutiful, unintelligent housekeeper which is expected of her.

She could see herself clearly enough with other people's eyes: she was drab, she was nearing, if she had not reached, middle-age, she bore the stamp of a woman who had always worked against the grain[...] Who would suspect her of a sense of fun and irony, of a passionate love for beauty and the power to drag it from its hidden places?

This is the sort of family-orientated novel which Richmal Crompton sometimes does better, and sometimes rather worse. Young never falls into the pitfalls to which Crompton is occasionally prone - preciousness or being ever so slightly saccharine. Miss Mole is a fairy-tale, but without sentimentality. That is not to say the novel is remotely cynical or disillusioned - but rather that there is nothing which would be more appropriate in a book called Tales For Disconcerted Infants. But it is definitely in the fairy-tale mold - Miss Mole deals with the various dilemmas and quandaries facing the members of the Corder family, who all grow to depend upon her. And she has a few problems of her own, which are gradually revealed, though the family around her remains oblivious.

They were all too young or too self-absorbed to understand that her life was as important to her as theirs to them and had the same possibilities of adventure and romance; that, with her, to accept the present as the pattern of the future would have been to die.

But
it is as impossible to pity her as it is to envy her position, because she is so irrepressible. Though she teases everyone, especially her cousin Lilla (and all while pretending to be respectful, and subtle enough to evade retaliation) there is no malice in Miss Mole. There were a few bits which made me laugh out loud, and plenty which made me smile:
"This is a fine old city, Miss Mole," he said, "full of historic associations, and we have one of the finest parish churches in the country - if you are interested in architecture," he added, with a subtle suggestion that this was not likely.

Hannah longed to ask what effect her indifference would have on the building, but Mr. Corder did not wait for reassurance about its safety.

EH Young's strength is in dialogue - when Miss Mole is wittily dissecting other people's words, but in the guise of guileless innocence, Young crafts the exchanges so finely. The prose narrative is good, but sometimes drags a bit, and doesn't have the liveliness which Miss Mole injects into the dialogue. Perhaps this is why EH Young is a very good, but not a great, novelist - however, when it comes to drawing characters, she is really rather brilliant. Miss Mole is a creation of whom Jane Austen would be proud, and I think I'll remember her for some time.

As I said - my first EH Young, but not my last. Thank you, books, for being sturdy enough to last 80 years and allow me the enjoyment of all the wonderful novelists who are neglected by most of the publishing world today! EH Young is surely due a reprint from someone...


25 comments:

  1. This sounds like exactly what I wanted The Elegance of the Hedgehog to be! But my library hasn't got it. Is The Misses Mallett any good? That's the only one the library has.

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  2. I've never heard of Miss Mole before, but it's definitely on my TBR pile now. Great review :) -Cori

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  3. Mis Mole and several others can be found as Virago paperbacks.

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  4. Jenny - this is the first EHY I've read, but I've heard good things about The Misses Mallett!

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  5. What an excellent review. As as already been mentioned, some of her books were reprinted as VMCs.

    Thanks for lending me the other two EH Youngs!

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  6. Cori - hope you manage to find a copy!

    callmemadam - yes, I've seen a few VMC editions, but I don't think they've reprinted since the 1980s, have they?

    Verity - I look forward to your thoughts on the two you've borrowed - like a food-taster for my books!

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  7. This sounds like my sort of book. Thank you for the interesting review. Definitely one to go on my list of books I'm looking for. And I have just managed to get Matty and the Dearingroydes - thank you for the recommendation.

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  8. This does sound like a wonderful book and does indeed need a reprint so that lots more of us can enjoy it!

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  9. Oh joy. Miss Mole and several others are in my library. Thanks for the suggestion, Simon.

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  10. Excellent review, and blame it on my birth country, but I wasn't familiar with the JTB awards. Now that I'm looking at the list of past winners, I see a new challenge coming!

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  11. I read several of E H Young's books a few years ago & really enjoyed them. I think Chatterton Square was my favourite at the time. A re-read must be in order.

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  12. But none of you are relaxing to The Quickening.... Thank you Simon :)

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  13. I've only read Jenny Wren, but clearly I need to take this one off the shelf soon. And if Virao won't reprint I can think of a few lists it would slot into nicely ...

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  14. Hi Sean! Thanks for stopping by my bookish alter-ego... not got much in common with my music taste, I'm afraid. Glad you're enjoying The Quickening! I think it's one of her best albums, certainly my favourite since Old Low Light.

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  15. Really liked your review and have never heard of the book. But will sure look out for this

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  16. This sounds wonderful. I've got so many books on my library list that you've recommended that I'm seriously considering naming it after you.

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  17. I have Miss Mole! I think it's in a Virago edition, but I may have that wrong. You've made it sound wonderful. Sounds like a great read while you're curled up in front of a fire. A good week end sort of read, if only I had quiet weekends...

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  18. Thanks! I have a never read copy of this which I shall forthwith drag out and read.

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  19. This sounds wonderful and another one to add to my wishlist.

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  20. this sounds like a must read! thanks for the review.

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  21. makedoandread - that made me laugh, thanks!

    Thanks for all your comments, guys, I seem to have started a Miss Mole readathon without even trying - do let me know when you write about it.

    Lisa - not only do you have a copy, but judging from my dovegreybooks emails of 2004, you've read it!

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  22. I adore Miss Mole and those old editions are fabulous!

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  23. Thank you for reminding me about E H Young. I read Miss Mole, The Misses Mallett and one other, the title of which escapes me, back in the 80's when Virago reprinted them and really enjoyed them. I seem to recall having wanted to read Jenny Wren but in those pre-Internet days it wasn't quite as easy to find books if they weren't in your local bookshop or library and I was in the midst of child rearing (and I swear my non-reading other half had trained them to howl if I was in a book shop for more than a minute). As a result it is still on my wish list so I will renew my efforts - after retrieving the other two from the back of the book case where they have been for a long time.

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  24. I have just realised Simon that I have FIVE by this author, including Miss Mole, in the wonderful green Virago editions. I must get them down

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  25. A good friend read Miss Mole to me about 25 years ago - just as Virago was reprinting most of the novels. I have just read Miss Mole to my partner and we've moved straight onto the Misses Mallett. She not only excels in wisdom and dialogue but also in description of people and places. Her love of Bristol/Radstowe shines through.

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