Book Review for “Miss Mole” by E.H. Young.
According to the publisher: “Hannah Mole is a forty-ish spinster, haunted by her past and drifting from post to post-now a governess, now a companion for elderly women. She rarely lingers long due to a slightly troubled relationship with the truth, a tendency to speak her mind, and a fundamental mistrust of others. But Hannah’s darker instincts are tempered by a stubborn self-respect and a surprising ability to find joy and inspiration in ordinary life. When she returns to her home town of Radstowe and takes an unpromising job in the home of the stuffy, widowed Reverend Corder and his daughters, she finds a situation in which her unique characteristics are not only appreciated but essential. In Miss Mole, winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1930, E.H. Young created her most complex, unlikely, yet imminently lovable heroine in a tale packed with rich characters, brilliant humour, and quiet triumph.”
This is another novel that Dean Street Press has just released as one of their Furrowed Middlebrow series, aimed to help widen the readership of some long-forgotten classics from female British authors whose works have gone out of print. While I’ve heard the name of this author, I never read anything by her before, and the sound of this 1930 award winning novel was certainly intriguing. Another bit from the publisher says:
Who would suspect her of a sense of fun and irony, of a passionate love for beauty and the power to drag it from its hidden places? Who could imagine that Miss Mole had pictured herself, at different times, as an explorer in strange lands, as a lady wrapped in luxury and delicate garments, as the mother of adorably naughty children and the inspiringly elusive mistress of a poet?
I have to agree with this assessment and add that Young’s ability to develop this very unusual character was outstanding, to say the least. What we don’t know about her at the start of the novel, quickly turns into something so complex and so intricate that it’s like looking at a mosaic from far away; all the pieces fit together into one splendid picture, but if you see it from up close, you might not be able to discern what it is all about. That’s a very important point, because I have to say that there were times while reading this book that I was confused and unsure what Young was inferring. It could have been that I wasn’t catching the wry humor that Young instilled into Miss Mole, which would be my own fault. Then again, often it felt like her mental athletics had her pole jumping from character to character, and leaping from one conclusion to another, regardless of the scenes that had just played out. In addition, Young played pretty fast and easy with the timelines here; she’d talk about some upcoming event, and then jump to after that event had obviously taken place, only to reflect back upon what we were missing, through some hints at her telling someone else, or through her own silent observances.
By the way, the one fault I found in Young’s character development was that she felt a bit older than almost 40 to me; she felt more like over 50 at times. Mind you, that age made it more believable that she’d still be interested in men romantically, and still hurt by the one love she had who hurt her. Even so, I had to remind myself that by today’s standards, being 40 isn’t over the hill; however this book was published in 1930 when women who weren’t married by at least their mid to late 20s were considered hopeless spinsters. Of course, even back then these women could still find husbands, although they might be looking more at widowers with children, who want someone in their home who would be more than a governess to them. This, of course, makes Miss Mole’s immediate dislike of Mr. Corder an interesting twist, since he’s exactly the type of man that people would find appropriate for her.
I should also mention how very poetic Young’s prose is in this book, which was a joy to read. Wait… on second thought, maybe I should call it metaphoric. I say that because Young allows Hannah to apply metaphors to practically every situation, and to almost everything she observes as well. Young also turns this into a way of making Miss Mole funnier, especially when she mixes those metaphors (and then apologizes for doing so)! Mind you, some of them get to be a touch too intricate for my taste, and there were times when I wasn’t sure why she applied a certain comparison, when it seemed to be in opposition to what I’d just read. All this made our protagonist into quite an enigmatic character, with no small amount of secrets, fictions, and outright lies – both to herself and to others. Despite this, I still found Hannah to be an empathetic character, falling just short of being totally lovable!
The thing with this book is that despite the drawbacks, by the time you finish reading it, even if you’re still somewhat confused, you’ll have a smile on your face. It is both comical and a comedy. It is also the type of witty, contemporary romance novel that they wrote in the 1930s, which feel far less saccharine, if a bit more prudish (which is fine by me) than many of today’s romance novels. However, I must admit that if Hannah Mole hadn’t been so cute, and if the writing hadn’t been so beautiful, this would have gotten a much lower rating from me. But Mole is adorable, and Young’s writing is poetically lovely, so I although some of the vagueness seemed befuddling to me (some of which is probably my own fault), I think I can still recommend this book and the most appropriate rating from me would be three and a half stars out of five.
Dean Street Press released the 1930, award winning novel “Miss Mole” by E.H. Young on August 2, 2020. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me the ARC of this novel.