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Review for the book I read Thursday, July 14th. Borrowed from [community profile] papersky by way of [personal profile] nineweaving.

This minor but sweet and pleasant novel is set in a women's theatrical hotel, a sort of residential club, in the 1920s (mostly). The protagonist, Mouse, in the process of learning that she is a terrible actress, works as a secretary in a theatre for a very famous actor/director, and of course falls in love with him. Her three closest friends at the club weave through the plot in various entertaining and complicated ways, and we get flashforwards to them forty years later, so that we see how it all works out.

The things that are enjoyable about this book are the atmosphere of the club, which reminds me pleasantly of college as it was for me, a place where everyone worked and was in and out at all hours and lived in no space whatsoever and was happy; the theatre, its architecture and workings and rehearsals and the exact manner in which Mouse is a believably terrible actress and the way that celebrity can turn anybody's head; and Mouse herself. She has boundless self-confidence and joie de vivre, an appreciation for the little lovely details that can make life worth living. She knows what she wants, career-wise and sexually, and goes after it explicitly and with delight. She has agency and a sense of her own value, and though the man she wants is not worthy of her, the process of her learning that is not one that crushes her spirit. The text does not condemn her for desire. This is very rare for a book written in the late sixties and set in the twenties. It's not a romance novel, it's explicitly not, and it would be a worse book if it were and most writers would have written it as one. It is a novel about dealing with the fact that at eighteen people do not usually have any idea of what makes a good partner. (There are exceptions. I have to say that, having married at eighteen, happily.)

The annoying part of the novel is that one of the things that happens to one of the friends is not good, and is not right, and is explainable only by all of the characters subscribing to twenties social codes in a way that they do not do in the rest of the text. I disliked seeing women who usually cheerfully ignore anything that stands between them and their goals unconsideredly bow to the worst of class-based nastiness, and they really never do question it, and it is odd for the book to leave that one thing unquestioned. This is why I use the word minor.

But it is sweepingly exuberant, wonderfully different, and has that uniquely funny voice that Dodie Smith can summon. It reminds me somewhat of early Josephine Tey, or some Rumer Godden, but does not annoy me as much. So I do recommend it.


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