I was thrilled to learn that there was a new book by Lissa Evans and to be able to read it early, thanks to NetGalley. Old Baggage is about Mattie, a former suffragette. She’s a wonderful character: fiercely intelligent, witty, overbearing. She lives in Hampstead with her friend The Flea, who looks after her because domesticity is not Mattie’s thing. As far as she is concerned, the struggle for women’s rights is far from over but does she dwell too much on the past? The happy days of the sisterhood, even the suffering in prison? She needs a new outlet for her formidable energy and starts a group for young girls, to be called the Amazons. They will learn self-defence, self-reliance, healthy outdoor living and expand their horizons in accordance with Mattie’s ideas. The Amazons are to be the opposite of any youth organisation which seems regimented or militaristic; Mattie’s generation is the one which lost its brothers and sweethearts in the First World War.
At first there are few responses to her advertisement but the Amazons attract more and more girls, who are soon having the time of their lives on Hampstead Heath. The most interesting of them is Ida, a bright girl from a working class home where no one has any aspirations and she is constantly disparaged. Working as a housemaid for Mattie, she is exposed to new ways of thinking and begins to dream of improving herself. She’s also a great success in the Amazons, a born leader. All seems going well when a new character is introduced, a girl who causes Mattie to lose all sense of proportion, for reasons which I can’t give for fear of spoilers. The Flea sees things straight, speaks her mind and the two old friends become estranged. Mattie has committed a double betrayal and has to come to terms with it.
The end of the book connects it with the wonderful Crooked Heart, which I praised so highly here. I absolutely loved Old Baggage from the first page (but not as much as I loved Crooked Heart). Now that we have some of Mattie’s back story, it would be wonderful to find out what happened to Noel of the earlier book.
Old Baggage (nice punning title), will be out on 14th June.