Thursday 30 August 2018

Old Baggage by Lissa Evans @LissaKEvans #OldBaggage @DoubledayUK @alisonbarrow

What do you do next, after you’ve changed the world?

It is 1928. Matilda Simpkin, rooting through a cupboard, comes across a small wooden club – an old possession of hers, unseen for more than a decade.

Mattie is a woman with a thrilling past and a chafingly uneventful present. During the Women’s Suffrage Campaign she was a militant. Jailed five times, she marched, sang, gave speeches, smashed windows and heckled Winston Churchill, and nothing – nothing – since then has had the same depth, the same excitement.

Now in middle age, she is still looking for a fresh mould into which to pour her energies. Giving the wooden club a thoughtful twirl, she is struck by an idea – but what starts as a brilliantly idealistic plan is derailed by a connection with Mattie’s militant past, one which begins to threaten every principle that she stands for.

Old Baggage is a funny and bittersweet portrait of a woman who has never, never given up the fight.

Old Baggage by Lissa Evans was published by Doubleday in hardback on 14 June 2018, the paperback edition will be published in December. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.

Readers who've read and enjoyed Lissa Evans' Crooked Heart, published in November 2014 will be delighted, as I was, to find that Old Baggage is Matilda 'Mattie' Simpkin's early story. We meet Mattie as she fights off an attacker on Hampstead Heath and inadvertently injures a young woman whilst doing so.  That woman is Ida Pearse who is angry and threatens to take legal action against Mattie.

Mattie's friend and greatest ally; Florrie 'The Flea' comes to the rescue and offers Ivy work as the housekeeper in the home that Mattie and Florrie share.

Mattie is feeling her age, and the 'old baggage' of the title could easily be how she sees herself, just as it could also be the amazing life she led as a younger woman. Mattie fought tirelessly for women's rights, she spent time in jail, she went to university when women were not awarded degrees. She's had an incredible life and is determined to carry on her work.

When Mattie meets an old acquaintance who seems to be favouring the new wave of fascism and has set up a club to encourage this, she decides it's time to set up a new group; to encourage younger women in her views. She's been especially dismayed by Ida's lack of knowledge regarding the rights of women.  Holding both of the group meetings in the same venue can only lead to disaster and it's not long before confrontation happens.

Lissa Evans is such a talented author. Her characters are delightful, and I was especially fond of Florrie who is such a support to Mattie, with the same views but a very different way of dealing with them. Her work as a Health Visitor shows the hands-on, caring nature that she has and I found her to be less abrasive and hot headed than Mattie.

Old Baggage is the perfect novel for 2018; one hundred years on from the suffragette movement and gives an incredible insight into what those brave and committed women went through so that our generation can live more equally today.

Lissa Evans writes with charm and with humour. Her observations are vivid and colourful and her characters are a delight. This is a courageous and touching story, I enjoyed it very much.

Lissa Evans has written books for both adults and children, including Their Finest Hour and a Half, longlisted for the Orange Prize, Small Change for Stuart, shortlisted for many awards including the Carnegie Medal and the Costa Book Awards and Crooked Heart, longlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction.

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Twitter: @LissaKEvans

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