REVIEW: Old Baggage, Lissa Evans

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

It is 1928. Matilda Simpkin, rooting through a cupboard, comes across a small wooden club – an old possession of hers, unseen for more than a decade.
Mattie is a woman with a thrilling past and a chafingly uneventful present. During the Women’s Suffrage Campaign she was a militant. Jailed five times, she marched, sang, gave speeches, smashed windows and heckled Winston Churchill, and nothing – nothing – since then has had the same depth, the same excitement.
Now in middle age, she is still looking for a fresh mould into which to pour her energies. Giving the wooden club a thoughtful twirl, she is struck by an idea – but what starts as a brilliantly idealistic plan is derailed by a connection with Mattie’s militant past, one which begins to threaten every principle that she stands for.

Old Baggage is a sharp and masterful evocation of the early-20th Century; of the middling, oft-overlooked pre- and post- World War years whose events seem to have little consequence, especially when initially compared to the seemingly more interesting periods that surround them. After-all, the banal and boredom that arises when all the action and activity has finally ceased, is Old Baggage’s central, sobering theme.
“What do you do next, after you’ve changed the world?” it asks. And, at least, in the mind of central protagonist Mattie, the answer to the question has seemed to have always been out of reach.
It is an interesting and thought-provoking question, what happened after - when all the action was over and the cause was reached; when the sashes and the ribbons were finally put away; when the suffragettes disbanded and the monotony of real life resumed.
Could it be resumed? Normal life, that is. I do not think that I would have been able to go back and I imagine that many of the women must have felt the same.
It is like Harry Potter and the gang (tired reference, I know, but I am tired and it is the best that I can do on short notice) getting married and settling down and, the whole chaos of their entire teenage years being put away in little boxes and seemingly forgotten.
I didn’t buy it in fiction and, I would have bought it even less if it actually had happened.
Instead, there is a listlessness; an endless searching for something to put your name and mind towards. And, sure, for many of the women that might have been child-rearing, or continuing in smaller numbers to spread the messages of the suffragettes; but equally, and far more worryingly, it might have been invested in the rising cult of fascism.
Anything, it seems, that whiles away the innumerable hours.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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