Daily Archives: September 9, 2010

‘The second-last woman in England’ by Maggie Joel

2010, 345p.

This book had me in, right from the first page.  The book and its marketing is a little more chick-lit than I’m usually attracted to but hey- what’s wrong with just sinking into a book and going with it?  I often wonder how much of my reaction to a book is framed by the books that I might have read immediately beforehand.  Perhaps with this book  I was burned out after reading about gentlemanly characteristics and judicial personalities.

The book opens on Coronation Day, June 1953 as Harriet Wallis shoots her husband dead.  We are told from the start that she hangs for the crime- the second last woman in England to do so.  The book then winds back to 1952, nine months prior to the shooting and it creeps up, in fairly short chapters, to the shooting which occurs in the final pages of the book.

What I really enjoyed about the book was the setting of post-war, affluent London and I realized that I don’t think I’ve read many books set in this time or place.   Beneath the social  functions and respectability, this is an unhappy household- a barbed wire Mary Poppins!  I know that Lisa at ANZLitLovers felt that the relationships were hackneyed and stereotyped, which may be true,  but when I thought about it I couldn’t identify from where I might have absorbed this stereotype .   It came over as a carefully researched book and although at times I baulked at the detailed listing of particular brands and possessions, it seemed consistent with the status-consciousness of the characters and their milieu.

I was annoyed by at least three typos that I noticed- just not good enough. (It is a Pier 9 book, part of the Murdoch stable. Sniff.)  But, to be honest I found myself turning the pages avidly, but trying to slow down too because I was enjoying it so much.  I can’t say that I’ve experienced that with my gentlemanly characteristics and judicial personalities recently.