Rachel Malik’s Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves – Blog Tour Post

Miss Boston coverI’m going to set out my stall early on this one – I absolutely loved this book. We’re only weeks into 2018 but I already know this will make my Top Ten Reads at the end of the year. In fact, I already know that it is one of my favourite novels of all time. Once I finished reading it, I experienced that sense of being bereft, of not knowing quite what to do with myself. It is quiet, understated, and utterly moving in its description of the relationship which forms between Elsie Boston, a single woman running her own small-holding, and Rene Hargreaves, the Land Girl who is sent to help her in 1940.

I loved this novel for many reasons. Malik’s prose is flawless and beautiful, and I have an impulse to quote large chunks of it here, feeling as though this is the only way I’m going to do her writing full justice. She captures nuances of feelings in what her two characters say to each other as they become more comfortable in each other’s company,

‘A ‘we’ was creeping into their talk, sometimes an ‘us’. Shall we take a walk up Inkpen Hill? Let’s go back through Cole’s wood, it’s lovely in the rain. This ‘we’ belonged to Elsie first, and was usually a question; not an old habit, but a placing of the two of them side by side. And Rene, quick and cautious, took it up, sometimes in questions but more often to reprise – This is where we saw the hawk with the rabbit …’

The two women, alone in their lives for different reasons, form a strong bond, one which will change the shape of the rest of their days. Elsie and Rene farm, rebuild, and mend. This is a quiet life, arguably a hard life as the novel progresses, and they carve out a living as itinerant workers during the middle of the Twentieth Century. Malik’s achievement is to show us her characters in all their detail, even as the women shield themselves protectively from the rest of the world. As the story continues, events conspire to test their courage in terms of the life they have made for themselves. The relationship which forms between Elsie and Rene (‘Bert’) is both beautifully simple and complex: a  connection based on unspoken understanding, a relationship which doesn’t fit easily within conventional definitions of women’s behaviour at this time. After a period apart,

‘They agreed and accorded and yes-ed and of-coursed, but they weren’t in harmony. Elsie was wordier than usual, still speaking the paragraphs she had composed so carefully for her weekly letters.’

 These are women on the margins, at times regarded with a degree of suspicion by some around them, and in the latter stages of the novel, their relationship is subject to the sometimes prurient scrutiny of a society which is uncomfortable when faced with anything different. However, Elsie and Rene refuse to compromise, pursuing the life they choose together, and they make much of the little they have, believing that ‘if you have all you want, you are rich.’ Having a female relationship like this at the heart of a novel was both refreshing and beautiful.

Another key thing I loved about this novel was Malik’s attention to their domestic detail – there’s a richness to the sparse things these two women surround themselves in order to make a home for each other,

‘In the evening, once they had eaten and all their jobs were done, they would sit up quite late: first with the concert or the play on the wireless and then more tea and on with Patience, and the shuffle and slip-plat of cards on desk and tray would get slower and sometimes stop altogether as they talked about this and that.’

The Historical Note at the end tells us that Rene Hargreaves was the author’s maternal grandmother, ‘a black sheep if ever there was one.’ Knowing that certain key moments are based on actual events made for a tense evening of reading as the end neared. Records are thin on the ground and Malik points out that this novel is a ‘fiction and not a speculation’. However, such is the superb quality of the novel that her fictional Miss Hargreaves and Miss Boston are fully alive in this reader’s thoughts as the novel progresses. I truly loved it.

Thanks to the author for a copy for review. Please see details below for other events on the blog tour.

 

Miss Boston and Miss H Blog Tour

6 thoughts on “Rachel Malik’s Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves – Blog Tour Post

  1. Pingback: About Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves – interviews, reviews | Rachel Malik Writing

  2. Pingback: Blogging – the first eight months, or ‘What I’ve learned So Far…’ | Books and Wine Gums

  3. Pingback: My Ten (ish) Favourite Reads of 2018 | Books and Wine Gums

  4. Pingback: A Terrible Kindness – Jo Browning Wroe | Books and Wine Gums

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