Book Review: Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

Old BaggageAbout the Book

What do you do next, after you’ve changed the world?

It is 1928. Matilda Simpkin, rooting through a cupboard, comes across a small wooden club – an old possession of hers, unseen for more than a decade.

Mattie is a woman with a thrilling past and a chafingly uneventful present. During the Women’s Suffrage Campaign she was a militant. Jailed five times, she marched, sang, gave speeches, smashed windows and heckled Winston Churchill, and nothing – nothing – since then has had the same depth, the same excitement.

Now in middle age, she is still looking for a fresh mould into which to pour her energies. Giving the wooden club a thoughtful twirl, she is struck by an idea – but what starts as a brilliantly idealistic plan is derailed by a connection with Mattie’s militant past, one which begins to threaten every principle that she stands for.

Format: Hardcover, ebook (pp.)    Publisher: Doubleday
Published: 14th June 2018               Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

In many ways the title, Old Baggage, gives a clue to themes explored in the book.  For example, some of those who come into contact with Mattie Simpkin, with her no-nonsense attitude and forthright manner, would probably regard her as a bit of an ‘old baggage’.   Mattie believes in the benefits of physical exercise, the great outdoors and that, despite the changes brought about by the women’s suffrage movement, the fight needs to carry on if women are to achieve true equality. As she says: “The battle is not yet over; every day brings fresh skirmishes.”  The reader can’t help but admire Mattie’s spirit, whilst at the same time admitting it might be quite exhausting to live with her.

Luckily Mattie has Florrie, nicknamed The Flea.  I defy anyone not to fall in love with Florrie who is, to my mind, the most sympathetic figure in the book.    Her contribution to making the lives of women better is achieved through actions rather than words.  In her role as a health visitor, she dispenses practical advice about domestic problems and the rearing of children to women often living in poverty and poor housing. Florrie is Mattie’s most loyal supporter, her self-appointed ‘shield-bearer’.  Florrie understands Mattie’s moods and is able to exercise a restraining influence on her wilder schemes, schemes that, as with early motor cars, often require ‘someone to precede her with a red flag’.      

There’s plenty of emotional ‘old baggage’ in the book too.  The legacy of past actions from their campaigning days in the suffragette movement looms large in the lives of some of Mattie’s and Florrie’s comrades.  The government’s response to their protests – imprisonment, force-feeding – has wrought physical and psychological damage in some cases.  In addition, Mattie discovers an unexpected legacy of those years much closer to home – ‘a hand from the past, reaching out to grasp hers’.  In trying to set right what she sees as the mistakes of the past, she acts in a way that is completely out-of-character and that will have unforeseen consequences.   Unfortunately, what Mattie doesn’t realise is that she’s not the only one with emotional ‘old baggage’.

Old Baggage is a touching depiction of female friendship, a rallying cry for women’s equality and for setting your sights high in life.  As Mattie concludes, ‘Better, always and ever, to raise one’s eyes to the road ahead’.  I really enjoyed it.  (By the way, I reckon Dame Maggie Smith and Dame Judi Dench would make a marvellous Mattie and Florrie in a film version.)

I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, Doubleday, and NetGalley in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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Lissa EvansAbout the Author

After a brief career in medicine, and an even briefer one in stand-up, Lissa Evans became a comedy producer, first in radio and then in television. Her first novel, Spencer’s List, was published in 2002, and since then she has written three more books for adults (two of them longlisted for the Orange/Baileys Prize) and two for children (the first of them shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal). Her two most recent books for adults were set in London during the Second World War; one of them, Their Finest Hour and a Half, has now been made into a film entitled ‘Their Finest’, starring Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin and Bill Nighy

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

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