by Frank Baker
A phantasmagorical magic lantern show, Miss Hargreaves is a treat–a luscious Anglophilic truffle of a novel. Brittish-isms? Check. Cathedrals and church music? Check. Eccentric old ladies? Check. A Jeeves and Wooster novel-cum-fantasy? Check. One of NPR’s book critics, librarian Nancy Pearl, offered Miss Hargreaves up as one of her “under the radar” reads and it is not to be missed if any of the above piques your interest.
Norman Huntly, a twenty-something church musician, makes a harmless game of creating fantastic stories and characters “on the spur of the moment”. So to pass a quiet afternoon, for instance, Norman and his best chum Henry might carry on between themselves about a trip to Ireland or a man in the pub–all, mind you, totally the creation of their imaginations. And so once on a visit to a dreary cathedral, spurred on by a boring sexton, Norman and Henry regale the sexton with tales of their dear friend Miss Connie Hargreaves–she of the noisy cockatoo, traveling harp, and books of poetry. Later that evening (and probably fueled by quantities of stout and whiskey), Norman sends off an invitation to their Miss Hargreaves, begging her to visit. All quite a lark.
Only imagine his surprise when he receives a reply from a Miss Hargreaves some days later–with her acceptance and her itinerary. Flummoxed, Norman assumes Henry has found a way to turn the joke around on him; but he is even more mystified when a book of poetry by Constance Hargreaves turns up in his father’s book shop.
This is truly a book that has no easy explanation, and if I supplied a spoiler alert you might think I was pulling your leg. Is Miss Hargreaves real? Perhaps her appearance is just a series of incredible coincidences? Is it possible she is a ghost? This is a book that defies categorization, really. If you like Jeeves and Wooster, if you accept Mary Poppins, if you want a novel whose plot is not tired, this is your late summer treat.