September 26th, 2008


Out On A (Sue) Limb

I meant to read Girl, Fifteen, Charming but Insane when it came out but somehow never got round to it. There are now several books in the series and I grabbed Girl, Nearly Sixteen, Absolute Torture when I saw it in the library the other day. Teenage Jess lives with her divorced mother and her granny. Jess has acquired an utterly charming boyfriend called Fred but has neglected to inform her mother. ‘She wasn’t a man-hater, exactly, but she only ever let men into the house when the washing machine wasn’t working.’ Fred forks out for festival tickets just as Mum tells Jess that she is taking her and Granny on holiday to St Ives to see Dad, taking in plenty of culture, history and gardens on the way. This is Jess’s absolute torture.

Don’t be put off by the glittery cover; this is a very funny book. Sue Limb is as good at nailing the middle classes as Posy Simmonds is, and that’s saying something. ‘Freya was at Oxford studying maths and sex appeal’. I enjoyed the descriptions of the journey south with its detours to Clouds Hill, Hardy’s cottage and other well known (to me) Dorset spots. There is a plot of sorts and all ends happily. Jess’s mum reminds me very strongly of someone; I think it’s me.

Sue Limb first came on the scene for me with Up the Garden Path on Radio 4, which starred Imelda Staunton as trollopy teacher Izzy. Unusually, I preferred the book version and its sequel Love’s Labours and have re-read the two quite often. The books were also adapted for television, less successfully (they went Too Far in the end) although I loved Nicholas le Prevost as Michael.

Then there was The Wordsmiths at Gorsemere. An Everyday Story of Towering Genius which also started on Radio 4. This is not only very funny and brilliantly cast (Simon Callow, Miriam Margolyes) but also perceptive literary criticism (the relationship between William and Dorothy is particularly well done). I’m not the only one to take it seriously. Richard Holmes includes it in the bibliography of the first volume of his wonderful biography of Coleridge. Both Garden Path and The Wordsmiths are often available on BBC 7.

Back in the 1990s Sue Limb wrote a column for the Guardian called Bad Housekeeping by Dulcie Domum. This was at first printed anonymously and I felt extremely smug to have spotted early on who the author was. She is one of those writers (Jean Ure is another) who haven’t had quite the recognition they deserve, in my opinion. I’ll certainly read more in the Jess series.