My rating: 6.5/10
I keep forgetting about this book, even though I only read it a week or so ago. It’s already had the ignominy of being shuffled away into the hall closet with a stack of miscellaneous already-reviewed books, only being rescued several days later when I was delving around in there looking for Christopher and Columbus by Elizabeth von Arnim, which I was hoping would be as great a treat as other bloggers have promised. (It was.)
High expectations were inspired by this opening passage:
“She never has anyone to take her out, and goes nowhere, and yet she can’t be more than twenty-seven, and really she’s not bad-looking.”
“It’s not looks that attract men,” there was a note of finality in the voice; “it’s something else.” The speaker snapped off her words in a tone that marked extreme disapproval.
“What else?” enquired the other voice.
“Oh, it’s—well, it’s something not quite nice,” replied the other voice darkly, “the French call it being très femme. However, she hasn’t got it.”
“Well, I feel very sorry for her and her loneliness. I am sure she would be much happier if she had a nice young man of her own class to take her about.”
Patricia Brent listened with flaming cheeks. She felt as if someone had struck her. She recognised herself as the object of the speakers’ comments. She could not laugh at the words, because they were true. She was lonely, she had no men friends to take her about, and yet, and yet——
“Twenty-seven,” she muttered indignantly, “and I was only twenty-four last November.”
And by this back-cover précis:
Patricia Brent is a guest, damned by the prefix “paying,” at the Galvin House Residential Hotel. One day she overhears two of her fellow “guests” pitying her for her loneliness and that she “never has a nice young man to take her out.”
In a thoughtless moment of anger she announces that on the following night she is dining at the Quadrant with her fiancé.
She wasn’t, and she hadn’t, but she did.
When in due course she enters the grill-room she finds some of the Galvin House-ites there to watch her. Rendered reckless by the thought of being found out, she goes up to a table at which is seated a young staff-officer, and asks him to help her by “playing up.”
This is how she meets Lieut.-Col. Lord Peter Bowen, D.S.O. Then follow the complications that ensue from Patricia’s thoughtless act.
Patricia’s fast-on-her-feet rescue of her situation definitely sets off a tangle of complications, especially when her “pick-up” proves to be something a little bit different than anything she could have imagined.
I won’t say too much more, plot-wise, because I’m sure some of you will be keen to read this one for yourself, as I was. Already something of a fan of Herbert Jenkins – I cherish a thick compilation of the famous Bindle stories – I was keen to see what he would do with a feminine lead. Not too badly, though I must say that Patricia reads rather like a woman written by a man; there were occasional odd notes, especially to do with clothes.
For Patricia is not a dowdy spinster – oh, no, not at all! She dresses well and with exquisite care, rather surprisingly so, considering her obviously straitened means. Herbert Jenkins tries his hand at this description of Patricia primping to go out on her first adventure, to what she thinks will be a solitary visit to the Quadrant Grill-Room, the “major-man” being at this point merely a figment of her imagination.
As she stood before the mirror, wondering what she should wear for the night’s adventure, she recalled a remark of Miss Wangle’s that no really nice-minded woman ever dressed in black and white unless she had some ulterior motive. Upon the subject of sex-attraction Miss Wangle posed as an authority, and hinted darkly at things that thrilled Miss Sikkum to ecstatic giggles, and Mrs. Mosscrop-Smythe to pianissimo moans of anguish that such things could be.
With great deliberation Patricia selected a black charmeuse costume that Miss Wangle had already confided to the whole of Galvin House was at least two and a half inches too short; but as Patricia had explained to Mrs. Hamilton, if you possess exquisitely fitting patent boots that come high up the leg, it’s a sin for the skirt to be too long. She selected a black velvet hat with a large white water-lily on the upper brim.
“You look bad enough for a vicar’s daughter,” she said, surveying herself in the glass as she fastened a bunch of red carnations in her belt. “White at the wrists and on the hat, yes, it looks most improper. I wonder what the major-man will think?”
Swift movements, deft touches, earnest scrutiny followed one another. Patricia was an artist in dress. Finally, when her gold wristlet watch had been fastened over a white glove she subjected herself to a final and exhaustive examination.
“Now, Patricia!”—it had become with her a habit to address her reflection in the mirror—”shall we carry an umbrella, or shall we not?” For a few moments she regarded herself quizzically, then finally announced, “No: we will not. An umbrella suggests a bus, or the tube, and when a girl goes out with a major in the British Army, she goes in a taxi. No, we will not carry an umbrella.”
She still lingered in front of the mirror, looking at herself with obvious approval.
Would a young lady of such obviously strong self-esteem really be so humiliated by the gossipings of some of the nasty old biddies sharing her residential hotel? Apparently so, and once we’ve accepted this slightly shaky premise we might as well go ahead and abandon ourselves to the whole happily romping thing.
It’s all very fluffy, and definitely a farce, though it has its moments of poignancy here and there. Set in the early years of the Great War, some of the characters are present because they are home on leave while recovering from their injuries; the sombre background of affairs in Europe and the bombings in England are a fascinating backdrop to the frivolous antics of the foreground players.
I was fortunate enough to track down a vintage copy of the book, though it took several long months to arrive from the bookseller in England, but here it is in digital format courtesy of the fantastic Project Gutenberg, for your reading pleasure.