Old Baggage by Lissa Evans


I listened to this book some months ago without writing about it and had forgotten it. I realized that when Laura mentioned reading it because Nancy Pearl recommended it.

The main characters, Mattie Simpkin and Flora Lee (known as the Flea) are veterans of the suffrage movement in Britain and have the battle scars to prove it. Mattie comes from a privileged background while the Flea always had to work to survive. It is now the late 1920s and the hard-charging Mattie is always looking for ways to improve the lives of women. The Flea does the same, but with a more self-aware touch.

Mattie encounters an old comrade from the suffrage days who after spending years in Australia has become a supporter of the nascent fascist movement. A brief visit with her inspires Mattie to begin an organization for teenage girls to encourage physical and educational activities on the nearby Hampstead Heath. It begins inauspiciously, but develops into a robust group. At the same time Jacqueline, her old comrade, has a rival one that has boys and girls and involves uniforms and marching.

Mattie loses her moral bearing in support of a member of the group, Inez. Upon meeting Inez, Mattie realizes her mother was a deceased suffragette she had known who had an affair with Mattie’s beloved brother who died in the war. In a rash moment Mattie gave Inez unfair help in a contest between the two groups. Her actions had disastrously bad results and punctures her self-assurance, ultimately with positive results.

Mattie is most appealing when she kindly manages an alcoholic suffragette when they were attending the funeral of Emmeline Pankhurst, promising her a bit more to drink if they just can walk a little further.

I liked the style of writing, characterized by episodes that are leave a bit of space between them. A fun, pleasing audiobook.

Lissa Evans, Old Baggage, Harper Perennial, 2019, 310 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available in the public library.

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