Frank Baker’s Miss Hargreaves (The Bloomsbury Group, 2010) is a perfect exemplar of my as yet unnamed proposed new genre. It is, according to the blurb on the back cover, one of the first in “a new library of books from the early twentieth century chosen by readers for readers.” The story is this: Norman Huntley is the sort of young man who has “…never lied in order to get out of things, so much as to get into things,” a condition that leads his father to warn him to “Beware of the Spur of the Moment.” However, his father’s advice goes unheeded when Norman and his friend Henry, On the Spur of the Moment, and for their own amusement, invent “Miss Constance Hargreaves.” They imagine her as an elderly poet (there’s an example of her work at the end of this paragraph), with a touch of rheumatoid arthritis, who travels everywhere with her harp, her cockatoo, her Bedlington terrier named Sarah, and a large hip-bath. After Norman (all in the spirit of getting into things) writes her a letter, you can imagine his shock when Miss Hargreaves (pronounced Har-graves), who shares some qualities with Mary Poppins, I think, not only quickly replies, but invites herself to come stay with Norman’s family for a good long get-reacquainted visit. And then she arrives, which inevitably complicates Norman’s relationship with his family and his girlfriend. How this deliciously impossible but strangely believable plot (think of it as a Wodehousian fantasy, perhaps) works itself out is a treat to behold. I can’t wait to discover what the Bloomsbury Group has in store next for American readers. (I have lots of suggestions, though.)
Here’s a verse from one of Miss Hargreaves’s poems:
O, bring me the cornet, the flute, and the axe,
The Serpent, the drum and the cymbals;
The truth has been told; I’ve laid bare all the facts—
I cannot make bricks without thimbles.