Sunday, September 4, 2016

Diary of an Ordinary Woman by Margaret Forster

Margaret Forster was educated at the Carlisle and County High School for Girls. From here she won an Open Scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford where in 1960 she was awarded an honours degree in History.

From 1963 Margaret Forster worked as a novelist, biographer and freelance literary critic, contributing regularly to book programmes on television, to Radio 4 and various newspapers and magazines.

Forster was married to the writer, journalist and broadcaster Hunter Davies. They lived in London. and in the Lake District. They had three children, Caitlin, Jake and Flora.
Margaret Forster presents the 'edited' diary of a woman, born in 1901, whose life spans the twentieth century. On the eve of the Great War, Millicent King begins to keep her journal and vividly records the dramas of everyday life in a family touched by war, tragedy, and money troubles. From bohemian London to Rome in the 1920s her story moves on to social work and the build-up to another war, in which she drives ambulances through the bombed streets of London.

Here is twentieth-century woman in close-up coping with the tragedies and upheavals of women's lives from WWI to Greenham Common and beyond. A triumph of resolution and evocation, this is a beautifully observed story of an ordinary woman's life - a narrative where every word rings true.
I have never been much of diary girl, neither have I ever been keen on reading other people's diary, but something spoke to me and I found myself leaving a car-boot sale with this book in hand, actually looking forward to see what Millicent King had to say about life then. I think it was mostly that fact that I miss my grandmother that made me buy it. My nan was born in 1924, I loved the times when she was telling me stories from her youth, she was a hell of a woman, still is, although dementia is taking hold on her. I wish that I could be half of the woman she is... But lets not get distracted, back to the diary.
I remember having read  Lady's Maid and Forster's biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, this means that more or less I knew what I was getting myself into, although I never expected it to sink in so deep. I finished this book this morning and spent the next few hours grieving - both for the death of this remarkable woman and for the book/diary ending. I had so enjoyed 'knowing' Millicent and felt quite cut adrift to have 'lost' her. I knew she was a fictional character, but she felt so real, so alive that I wish she was a living person.
This is a great book - the emotional ambiguities and twists & turns of Millicent's life were, for me, devastatingly real, making this an intense and powerfully engaging reading experience. Inspires reflection on past and present connections with my own mother, my grandmothers, great aunts etc, and a sharp (and uncomfortable) awareness of the ease with which we can, in our relative youth, disregard/dismiss their knowledge, perspective, experience and insight (as did the twins - Connie and Toby - to Millicent).
The rest of my day will be spent adjusting to the fact that there is no Millicent King! I know that this would be a sharing-too-much-situation, but I am crying as a write this review... I wish I was wiser to spend more time with my grandmother, but a time lost can rarely be made up for. Definitely recommend it! Read it, so that your wake-up call comes more on time than mine. It is an exquisite read.5FOXGIVEN