This silly little book was published in 1940 and is told in the voice of Norman Huntley, a young man who plays the organ in the cathedral town of Cornford. When it begins Norman and his friend were traveling in Ireland and to amuse themselves while chatting with the sexton of an old church, invent an old woman named Miss Hargreaves. A letter is written, one thing leads to another, and Bob’s your uncle, the 83-year-old Miss Hargreaves arrives by train in Cornford after Norman and his friend have returned home.
If you are charmed by the eccentric British, this book is for you. Norman’s invention arrives in all the glory Norman described for the sexton. The imperious Miss Hargreaves has a Bedlington terrier, a cockatoo, a harp, and a hip bath. As was the case many times with this book, I was mystified by some of these words.
It turned out that by thinking certain things, Norman could reinvent Miss Hargreaves and at one point, she apparently became a swan. Things went too far when Norman referred to her as Lady Hargreaves and she became an intolerable snob and would have nothing to do with Norman. Eliminating her required that Norman to return to the town in Ireland and had long-lasting consequences including a suspicion of foul play on his part.
What kept me listening to this book was the thought that Norman was a version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the young scientist who created a monster.
Frank Baker, Miss Hargreaves, Bloomsbury USA, 2009, orig. 1940, 317 pages (I listened to the audiobook).