When I started to notice these Bloomsbury Group books appearing on other blogs, I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist reading them too. Not just because the covers are so pretty, but also because the stories all sound so intriguing! Miss Hargreaves (pronounced Hargrayves as we are told in the author’s note) was the one that appealed to me the most and the one I’d heard the most about – and it was the right choice because I loved it. It’s a charming tale about the power of imagination and how it can lead to an unusual and unlikely friendship.
“Henry,” I moaned, “she is exactly as I imagined.”
Limping slowly along the platform and chatting amiably to the porter, came – well, Miss Hargreaves. Quite obviously it couldn’t possibly be anyone else.
Norman Huntley has always allowed his imagination to run away with him. On a trip to Ireland with his friend Henry, they amuse themselves by inventing an imaginary eighty-three-year-old woman called Constance Hargreaves. They make Miss Hargreaves a poet and a musician; they give her a dog called Sarah and a cockatoo named Dr Pepusch – and Norman writes her a letter inviting her to stay at his home in Cornford, Buckinghamshire.
Never expecting her to accept his invitation (how could she – she doesn’t exist!) Norman is stunned when a little old lady arrives at the train station accompanied by a dog, a cockatoo, a harp – and even her own bath. It seems that Norman’s creation has come to life – and with even Henry convinced it’s all a practical joke, how will he explain Miss Hargreaves to his parents, his sister and his girlfriend Marjorie?
As the story continues, it gets more and more bizarre. I can safely say this is one of the most original and unusual books I’ve read for a long time! Miss Hargreaves is an unforgettable character – endearing and eccentric, yet ever so slightly sinister – and Norman is torn between a fatherly pride in his creation and frustration at the way she’s taking over his life. Somewhere in the middle of the novel, a gradual shift of power from Norman to Miss Hargreaves takes place, resulting in an almost Frankenstein-like situation where the creator begins to lose control of his creation. And yet Miss Hargreaves seems to be aware that there’s something different about her and that some kind of invisible bond exists between herself and Norman.
I was expecting the story to be funny and entertaining – and it is. However, there are also some very moving and poignant scenes, making the book a perfect mixture of dark and light.
There was only one aspect of this book that I could maybe have done without and that was the music. With Norman Huntley’s church organ, Cornelius Huntley’s violin and Miss Hargreaves’ harp, the musical elements of the book became a bit too much for me. However, I’m sure other readers will enjoy the organ playing scenes and they certainly add to the quirkiness and originality of the book.
Pages: 317/The Bloomsbury Group/Year: 2009 (originally published 1940)/Source: My own copy