Queen Lucia- E.F Benson

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I’d never heard of the Mapp and Lucia series of novels until I watched the wonderful adaptation on the BBC at Christmas. I loved the world of 30s domestic intrigue in the little town of Tilling, based on Benson’s hometown of Rye, Sussex. The BBC tie-in book had the three novels that Steve Pemberton adapted for the series: Queen Lucia, Miss Mapp and Mapp and Lucia. (As an aside, I am genuinely jealous of Steve Pemberton’s talent. I will watch/read anything he is involved in and thought he was wonderful as Georgie.)

Queen Lucia, the first novel in the series, tells the story of the self-proclaimed queen of culture in a small Elizabethan town, Riseholme (Tilling comes later.) Lucia and her husband preside over all events and gossip in the little town and have done for the ten years since they arrived. A typical evening consists of Lucia playing the easiest movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata- the second and third movements do not have the same beauty, she insists; a tableaux in which Lucia is the star turn; and general hobnobbing. Lucia’s friend, partner in ridiculous baby-talk/pidgin Italian and dandy is Georgie, a pleasant and dapper bachelor who spends a lot of the novel trying to keep up with the social demands of the surprising whirlwind that is a quiet English market town.

However, the peace and ruthlessness of Lucia’s social life is disrupted by the arrival of a yogi/guru who isn’t all he seems and a particularly dodgy ‘Russian Princess’ claiming to be a world-class medium. But the biggest upheaval for her contented existence is the fact that a very famous and beautiful opera singer- and early prototype flapper- Olga Bracely moves in across the green. This event is catastrophic for Lucia’s hold on polite society. What ensues is polite, orderly chaos in which loyalties are tested, bad Italian is exposed and lots of war metaphors are used.

The novel was first published in 1920 and Lucia is essentially the Twenties equivalent of today’s hipster; she likes everything to look vintage, but with mod-cons attached; she’s quick to take up anything that seems a bit trendy (but not too trendy) and she’s quick to move on to the next thing. I love anything that’s very British and slightly frivolous set in the inter-war period; I’m a big fan of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh. This is definitely in that mould.

I liked the novel, but the type it’s printed in is TINY, which is obviously a publishing issue. I also found I had to be in the mood to read it. There’s lots of wordplay and clever humour, which is not brilliant when I’m absolutely shattered and a bit stressed. It’s definitely a book to read when you’re relaxed and feeling sharp. As a result, I’m saving the other two novels for the summer holidays! And if you have yet to see Mapp and Lucia, I urge you to get hold of a copy of the DVD.

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