We follow grandma’s slow slide into dementia from two different perspectives – daughter in law Jenny and granddaughter Hannah, with grandma’s daughter Bridget featuring strongly, as the family struggles to cope with the physical and emotional strains of balancing love, duty and life.
A hard series of events to watch unfolding, but it felt so, so authentic.
Georgy Girl completely confounded my preconceptions – in fact there was a wholesale misunderstanding of the theme and plot on my part! Yes, there’s a baby and a single mum, but it’s not Cathy Come Home.
Georgina – George – shares her 1960s beatnik Battersea flat with self centred violinist Meredith, and her current lover, and fellow musician Jos. Downtrodden George spends her life running around after them, cooking, cleaning, entertaining, paying.
George has what we could call “low self esteem”, and continuously compares herself unfavourably to glamorous gazelle Meredith and indulges in unrequited love for Jos.
Her parents are live in domestic servants for the wealthy West Londoner Leamingtons, where Ted is James Leamington’s besotted valet, and her mother is the family housekeeper and cook.
George herself is a surrogate daughter to James, although we never really learn Mrs Ls thoughts on the matter. He’s funded George’s private education, music and dancing lessons and has converted a large room in the Leamington’s presumably large London house to serve as George’s dance school.
Everything changes when Meredith tells Jos that she’s pregnant as that she wants to keep the baby “this time”; and James asks George to become his mistress.
Sarah Scott sets about making a new life in Workington, Cumbria. But from the start the involvement of The Man and then his colleague, The Woman, in this process make it clear that major events in Sarah’s history are being hidden.
As the story slowly reveals the reasons behind this secrecy and subterfuge, I realised nothing about either Sarah Scott or Tara Fraser is as it first appears.
And at the end, the person I felt most sympathy for was Mrs Armstrong; the only character who was honest about her own emotions and motivations, and the nature of friendship.
“It tells the story of Julia, a child psychologist. Scenes from Julia’s daily routine dealing with misbehaving or distressed children are interspersed with flashbacks to her own childhood, living with an overbearing single mother in the north of England and never entirely fitting in either at school or within her own extended family. […] As an adult, Julia possesses great insight into their behaviour and yet seems to have cultivated a wilful blindness to her own past transgressions.”
I felt slightly tricked when I read the Author’s Note at the end of Diary of an Ordinary Woman, but then turning back to the quotes on the front it does say it’s a novel. For all that, from the Introduction on it reads as what that Introduction says it is, Margaret Forster’s edited version of the diaries Millicent King kept from 26 November 1914 to 16 June 1995.
That said, the sense of betrayal reflects just how absorbing I found it to read (what I’d thought was) the life of Millicent King in her own words, written not with hindsight or as autobiography, but on an almost daily between the ages of 13 and 94. Instead, it’s Margaret Forster’s imagined version, but based on research and with roots in reality.
As a window into the 20th century and the transformations that events throughout that century brought for women in England, it’s a fantastic read. It made me wish I could talk to my grandmothers, to hear their versions. I’d recommend it as a must-read for anyone studying that period, particularly the impact of the two world wars on the home front.