The Bloomsbury Group reissues had somehow passed me by until I picked up on them via Simon’s site and once I heard about them, they sounded too good to miss. If only the temptation of online, low price second-hand books wasn’t so great…. Anyway, I sent for “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris”, “Let’s Kill Uncle” and “Miss Hargreaves” – all highly recommended on the various sites I searched. Since “Miss Hargreaves” arrived first, it was the one to get the initial read – and I have to say that I loved it!

Briefly, the book tells the tale of Norman Huntley and his friend Henry who, on a visit to a small village church in Ireland, wish into being the aged lady of the title, together with all her paraphernalia – parrot, dog, hip bath, excessively large amount of luggage, bad poetry. Norman is an organist in the cathedral city of Cornford and Miss Hargreaves turns up to cause havoc with his life, upsetting his relationships with his family, colleagues and girlfriend. How is Norman to explain the old lady away and deal with her twists and turns and personality changes, when they seem to all be caused by him and his whims?

The writing is excellent and very readable. All the characters are well drawn and substantial and they do provide quite a lot of the book’s humour. I think actually my favourite character was Norman’s father who runs a bookshop – more of whom below. His assistant in the bookshop, Squeen, is a joy. There certainly isn’t a dull moment and the tale rattles along so engrossingly that I read this in two sittings – but I could have easily managed it in one go if it hadn’t been for interruptions from real life!! The shift about midway when Norman unwittingly turns Miss H. into a titled lady and thereby alters their whole relationship is a neat twist, and well handled.

But this is a very, very clever book. Although it is ostensibly a humourous work, I don’t believe it totally is. Despite the funny moments, there are moments of deep sadness when Norman is trying to work out how to get rid of Miss Hargreaves whilst feeling unhappy and guilty at the same time. Human loneliness is revealed when Miss H. and he miss each other. Norman is revealed as having a history of being able to “think” things into existence and in a wonderful twist, his father it turns out can also do the same. In fact, Cornelius Huntley is to me one of the most remarkable aspects of the book, his speech appearing totally random and disjointed but actually turning out to make (mostly) perfect sense. I wondered whether he had adopted this mode of communication to make sure he didn’t actually bring anything else into existence, as he warns his son early in the book about Spur of the Moment wishing. The only time he talks sense in a linear fashion is when he’s slightly drunk and presumably his guard against Spur is slightly down!

The old adage “Be careful what you wish for because it might come true” certainly applies here. Poor Norman is torn in two – proud of his creation, whilst loving her and hating her at the same time. The end, when Miss H. comes to realise just what she is, is very moving. In fact, one of her poems, which I rather cruelly dismissed as bad, does quite touchingly address her predicament. The book has a little collection of her verses at the end, which are quite distinctive and priceless.

So, a little behind the times, I have at last discovered “Miss Hargreaves” – and will never forget her!

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