Book Review: Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves by Rachel Malik


Tender story of the land, friendship and secret lives

About the Book

Publisher’s description: During the Second World War, Rene Hargreaves leaves her children with her aunt and boards a train without buying a return ticket, so sure is she that she never wants to see her husband again. Instead she starts a new life as a Land Girl on Starlight Farm. She finds its owner Elsie Boston and her country ways strange at first, yet as their relationship develops they become inextricably dependent on each other, long after the war has ended. When their shared life is suddenly threatened by a visitor who comes to stay and events that follow, they must begin to fight a war of their own against not just their community, but the nation’s press and the full force of the law.

Book Facts

  • Format: Hardcover
  • Pages: 320
  • Publication date: 27th April 2017
  • Genre: Literary, Historical Fiction

My Review (5 out of 5)

The story is based on the life of Rachel Malik’s own grandmother but, as she states, the book is ‘a fiction and not a speculation and it should be read as such’. Initially, it took me a while to adapt to the rhythm of the author’s writing style: ‘For they were all gone: two sisters married and third moved away; three brothers, dead such a long time ago – their names engraved on the memorial to prove it; her mother and her father as well’. However once I did, I really became immersed in the story and totally engaged with the two main characters, Rene and Elsie.

From the start, Elsie is an enigmatic character, cherishing her solitude and resisting intrusion from neighbours, seeing this as ‘encroachment’. At the same time, she has a ‘lonely power’ that proves strangely attractive to Rene: Elsie wasn’t quite like other people, but that didn’t matter to Rene’.   Elsie’s strangeness is communicated in small ways, such as by gestures. When Rene first arrives at Starlight Farm: ‘She had offered her hand to Elsie, and Elsie had reached out hers but it wasn’t a greeting – Elsie had reached out as if she were trapped and needed to be pulled out, pulled free’. Gradually, they find each meets a kind of need in the other – Elsie, for companionship and a conduit to the outside world, and Rene, for refuge from her past: “Elsie knew that Rene fitted. A stranger to be sure, but one who didn’t make her feel strange.’

The development of Elsie and Rene’s relationship over time is tenderly observed without explicitly stating its nature.  Instead their growing mutual dependence is indicated by small things, like shared evenings listening to radio plays or the way they address each other: ‘A “we” was creeping into their talk, sometimes an “us”‘.  Eventually, Rene shares more details about her own history and the choices she has made. The War beings tumultuous change but also new beginnings for the pair. Then a figure from Rene’s past disrupts their way of life and brings with it grave consequences that puts their life together under an unwelcome and potentially life-changing spotlight.

This book is probably not everyone’s cup of tea (not that there isn’t plenty of tea drinking in it) but I absolutely fell in love with it.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers, Penguin Books UK, in return for an honest review.

In three words: Moving, tender, engaging

Try something similar…A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

About the Author

Rachel Malik was born in London in 1965 of mixed English and Pakistani parentage. She studied English at Cambridge and Linguistics at Strathclyde. For many years, Rachel taught English Literature at Middlesex University. Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves is her first novel.


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