I bought this in the Kindle sale and read it straight away. I see it’s already back to full price, which I wouldn’t have paid. The Town in Bloom was published in 1965 and is one of those ‘friends who are close when young and what has happened to them since’ books. The four friends here are Molly, Lilian, Zelle and the narrator, known only as Mouse. Every five years they meet for a reunion lunch. That’s the theory, but Zelle never turns up and we learn that there was some sort of rift between the friends in the past. Molly worries that Lilian has become too nostalgic: Lilian focuses on that one little period when we knew Zelle, and this last year she’s never stopped talking about it, As this story starts the three see Zelle watching them from outside the hotel and Mouse goes chasing after her.
The women meet in the 1920s, when Mouse joins Lilian and Molly at The Club, a women’s hostel. All are in the theatre world and the descriptions of it, obviously based on Dodie Smith’s experiences, are vivid and interesting. I also liked the giggly chats in their cubicles, accompanied by toasted Veda bread . The Veda bread is their madeleine. The girls meet Zelle in bizarre circumstances and she joins them at The Club. Given the air of mystery surrounding her, one hopes that the book will be about what happened to her, why the others have remained close (there are many meetings apart from the reunion lunch) and she has disappeared. Instead, guess what? It’s a book all about Dodie Smith. Mouse *is* Dodie in many ways. She’s tiny, comes from a doting home, dresses eccentrically, has supreme self confidence and a misplaced belief in her own acting abilities.
Instead of finding out about all the girls, we get every detail of Mouse’s affair with an older, married actor and every detail of what Mouse thinks about everything. I couldn’t like her much more than I like Dodie . I was disappointed that the revelations at the end weren’t more interesting, but loved the descriptions of what it felt like to be young in London in the twenties, during one particular summer which was to alter the course of the characters’ lives. Mouse has a ‘mishmash’ life, one venture following another without much success: acting, writing, book shops, dress shops; I’ve lost count of your goings on. She's only eighteen at the time of the crucial events, a strange mixture of precocity and innocence. She retains her childishness into her fifties: Though nowadays it’s you who are fashionable – just like a teenager.’ ‘Oh, dear! I do try to resist teenager clothes, but they so often fit me well and I must admit I adore them. My secret vice is that I sometimes wear black woollen tights.
Perhaps that’s what Dodie’s life would have been like if she hadn’t been a genuinely talented writer.