"Miss Hargreaves"

Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker

Miss Constance Hargreaves, poet, is a figment of the imaginations of Norman and Henry, two young Englishmen who are lifelong friends and who like to invent harmless histories to make themselves appear well connected and knowledgeable and help them gain admittance where they might otherwise be shut out. Completely caught up in the story they'd concocted about her Norman sent off a tongue-in-cheek note to Miss Hargreaves expressing their warm regards and inviting her to come for a visit.

The trouble started when they received a reply. They decided someone was just messing with them, but then a book of Constance Hargreaves verses turned up in Norman's father's bookshop. It was an old, well-used volume, one that couldn't have been recently put together and planted there by a practical joker. All of this is impossible of course, and yet there she was arriving on a train, a living, breathing human being, an eccentric old woman greeting Norman as a dear friend and causing him to question his own grasp on reality.

The complications for Norman were endless. He had to find a way to explain her presence in his life - to his girlfriend, his family, his friends and his employers, all of whom were soon worrying about his mental state. Things got more and more difficult until his life was completely going off the rails and he knew he would have to do something desperate to get it back. I'll leave it to you to read how he solves his dilemma.

It is such a treat to find a book with a plot that is completely fresh and new, unlike anything you've ever read before. It's a rare thing - let's face it, most stories have been told over and over again - so when an unusual one comes along it's a nice surprise. This was a new one to me, this tale of an imaginary character coming to life. I would have enjoyed it for the novelty alone but happily it also had pretty good writing.

There were interesting characters too. Miss Hargreaves is as quirky a character as you'll ever find. You love her, then hate her, then feel sorry for her, then love her again; the one thing I don't think I'll ever do is forget her. Norman's father is annoying and adorable, fascinating and monotonous. Norman himself is basically a regular guy, a decent guy, but one whose overactive imagination is about to become his downfall. There were a couple of times when I wanted to shake him for doing obviously dumb things that would make things worse and I wondered why the authour put those things in, but in the end I think they made Norman more relatable. He's an intelligent guy, a talented classical musician who might have seemed out of reach if he hadn't shown those moments of poor judgement.

This is an older book, first published in 1940 and is one of several early twentieth century books republished for the modern reader by The Bloomsbury Group. Other titles include "Henrietta's War", "Love's Shadow", "Mrs. Tim of The Regiment", and "The Bronte's Went To Woolworths". I haven't read any of those, but this one is a satisfying story, worth your time and I do recommend it.


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