“Tis to create, and in creating live
A being more intense, that we endow
With form our fancy, gaining as we give
The life we image, even as I do now.
What am I? Nothing: but not so art thou,
Soul of my thought!”
Lord Byron: Childe Harold: Canto III
It was through John’s blog Pretty Sinister Books that I first heard of Miss Hargreaves. The story seemed so compelling that when I won a giveaway in 2014, I chose the novel as my prize. I have since come to know that it was Simon @ Stuck in a Book, who was responsible for the republishing of the novel by Bloomsbury group. So thank you, John and Simon. Their reviews of the book can be read here and here.
Norman Huntley and his friend, Henry Beddow, have the habit of spinning yarns. Once on a trip to Lusk while looking round a rather depressing church, they try to ward off their boredom by making up a story about Miss Hargreaves, an eighty something lady, who apparently knew the late, lamented canon of the place. And they embellish the tale even further by giving her a harp, a cockatoo, a dog…even a bath which she tows from one place to another. As a finishing touch, Norman even writes to Miss Hargreaves, care of the hotel in which they had made her stay, inviting her to his home in Cornford. They laugh over it and think the business over. Only when Norman returns to his home, he finds a harp already delivered to his home and a letter from the lady, thanking him kindly for his invitation and announcing her arrival.
Norman and Henry, unsure and uncertain, wait at the railway station and an old lady alights from the train along with all the paraphernalia that the two had dreamt up for her. From then on, she causes enough disruptions in Norman’s life even as he tries to come to grips with what he has created. Nobody quite believes him. Only Norman’s father and the Roman Catholic priest of the town give any credence to Norman’s story. Even Henry starts feeling that Norman must have known the old lady beforehand and it wasn’t the ‘spur of the moment’ imagining as Norman had made it out to be. Norman himself is caught between exasperation with the woman and proud in his ‘creation’ of her. And then he even bestows aristocracy on her by making her a lady. From simple Miss Hargreaves, she becomes royalty, the one to whom the town bows. And now she has no time for Norman and minions like him. What has Norman done?
This is an interesting book about the power of creation and the responsibility that goes with great power. Belonging to a culture in which the power of words is a given as in mantras and where ragas have been created which can make earthen pots burst into light and make the rains come down, this was not merely fantastical to me. I enjoyed the book but I do wish there had been more of Henry in it. I liked the pipe smoking ‘old man’. Even in the end, the narrator doesn’t tell us what happened to him which was pretty sad.
Looking forward to reading more books by Frank Baker. Have you read this or any other book of his?
First Line: “Miss Hargreaves,” I murmured.
Publication Details: NY: Bloomsbury, 2010.
First Published: 1940