I’ve been a big fan of Margaret Forster since Mum gave me her wonderful ‘Diary of an Ordinary Woman’ some years ago. Ms Forster is another of those strong female writers Mum loved so well, with an uncanny ability to observe without passing judgement, and to record the foibles and quirks of human nature in a completely relatable way. This is a short, strange, seductive novel which I read in one sitting, so fascinated was I by the characters, and where the story could go….and I was left thinking about no end of things when I finished it.
There are few principal protagonists, but with some marvellous characters backing them up. The story moves fast, with lots of twists and turns, some expected, others completely out of left field. It’s set in London in the early sixties, a time of huge social and political change – George wears beatnik clothes, loose and baggy to cover herself, and a leather overcoat as a form of armour. She’s in her late twenties, too big, ugly, and desperate for love and sex, not necessarily in that order. One genuinely feels for her as she alternates between playing the fool and making a door mat of herself for her pretty but heartless flatmate, Meredith, while Meredith herself engendered equally strong feelings of dislike with her callous treatment of absolutely everyone, including her own child. A lecherous ‘uncle James’ who is her parents employer surprisingly proposes that Georgy becomes his mistress. Her parents, colourless souls, especially the father, are baffled and bewildered by their big ugly duckling daughter. There’s the neighbour, Peg, so pathetic and grotesque that even Georgy seems almost sylph like. And finally, the rather pretentious Jos, Meredith’s boyfriend to begin with – I’d be spoiling too much of the plot if I say more than that he finds himself in love with Georgy as Meredith is having his baby.
This novel is a reminder that we humans are a weird and wonderful lot. We are not always terribly nice to each other, and we are especially cruel to those we perceive as different. There is a wonderful scene where Georgy, in desperation, dives into a West End hairdressers, looking for an improvement in her looks, and ends up with her head in a basin of cold water in a public lavatory, trying to remove the result. It made me think about the dramas that are constantly played out behind the closed doors of millions of homes, about the desperation to be more than just ‘ordinary’ that fuels even the smallest rebellion, and about how many people end up resigning themselves to settling for less than they dream of. I think Ms Forster has an astonishing ability to describe the human condition. It’s fast, with funniness and pathos beautifully interlaced. And I recommend it.
As always. please let me know if you would like to read Georgy Girl, and I shall send it to the first reply!