FICTION//Old Baggage- Lissa Evans

I already know that, come Hell or high water (or… Brexit), this book will be on my ‘Favourites of 2019’ list in December. I loved it so much that I offered to buy someone a copy as part of Big Green Bookshop’s weekly #buyastrangerabook event on Twitter. I was paying it forward, as I received my copy as a gift from historian and writer, Emma Southon when she was giving away a spare copy on Twitter.

Judging the book by its cover, I probably wouldn’t have immediately chosen to read it- but, oh I would have missed out massively. It is a funny, warm and hopeful novel and I wished it had been longer.

Mattie is a middle-aged, former militant suffragette who lives near Hampstead Heath with her friend Florrie Lee, affectionately nicknamed The Flea. (Honestly, the next time I get a pair of cats, I’m naming them Mattie and The Flea.) After becoming horrified by the rise of a fascist youth group, run by one of her former suffragette colleagues and with the dawn of universal suffrage on the horizon, Mattie decides to create a youth group of her own, teaching girls common sense and history. It’s safe to say that chaos gently ensues at points during the novel.

I utterly adored this book and its demolishing of the lonely spinster stereotype; all of the women and girls in the novel are sparkling characters, full of life. I wasn’t surprised about the fascist direction of Mattie’s former comrade, either- one of the things that fascinates me is the way that we largely tend to see the Suffragettes as a left-wing movement, but once the vote was awarded, the women split along political lines that were radically different (Emmeline Pankhurst was a massive Tory, for example, and quite a few women worked for Oswald Mosely and his ilk. But many other women embraced socialism and left-wing causes.) The lengths the Suffragettes went to, and the aftermath of them on the women, are present throughout the novel. But, most importantly, that at the end of it all there is still hope.

For me, this book was also a solace during the week that our Parliament seemed to be in meltdown; it reminded me of the importance of the work women like Mattie did, as well as why we must protect democracy at all costs. Although the book was a warm bath- comforting, cheering and good- we must never forget the sacrifice that real-life Matties made for us.

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