One of the many joys of visiting my dear friend at 60going16 is the certainty of finding something special to read. That is true of her blog and of her home and when I visited her last week she allowed me to borrow this splendid old Virago Modern Classic from her impressive collection.
First published in 1930, Miss Mole by E.H. Young, is the best novel that I have read recently. It has an intriguing heroine, mystery, a plot that grips the reader to the final paragraph and wonderful language. I recommend it to aspiring novelists, especially any who might be tempted to enrol on a "creative writing" course. (My views on such courses are too savage to publish.)
Let me start with the language: this book would have been an ideal choice for teachers in the good old days of English Language 'O' level. It has deliciously long sentences with lots of phrases and subordinate clauses, perfect for parsing. Some paragraphs cover a whole page and even spill over onto another! I was tempted to copy some of it in Microsoft Word just to see the frenzied response of the Office Assistant.
The enigmatic heroine, Miss Hannah Mole, is rather plain and shabby, except for her shoes. She has spent the years since the end of the Great War as companion to a series of unappreciative elderly women, sustained only by her intelligence, imagination and sense of fun:
Who would suspect her of a sense of fun and irony, of a passionate love for beauty and the power to drag it from its hidden places? Who could imagine that Miss Mole had pictured herself, at different times, as an explorer in strange lands, as a lady wrapped in luxury and delicate garments, as the mother of adorably naughty children and the inspiringly elusive mistress of a poet?
While her employers want nothing more than a self-effacing manager of mending, fetching and carrying, we readers are drawn into the secret world of Miss Mole's longings and the gradual revelation of her mysterious past.
Miss Mole's latest appointment is as housekeeper in the home of a non-Conformist minister. Miss Mole is a non-conformist in a more general sense, something she tries to keep hidden from the genteel, propriety-bound people around her but the rather disreputable elderly next-door neighbour recognises her as a kindred spirit and calls her Miss Fitt. To say more about the person she really is would be to spoil the book for would-be readers. I suggest that you meet her and judge for yourself.