Book Review: Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

What do you do next, after you’ve changed the world?

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 funny and bittersweet portrait of a woman who has never, never given up the fight.

What I Thought:

If you’re looking at this review, but have yet to read Lissa Evans’ novel Crooked Heart, then I recommend you buy it and read it immediately. Old Baggage is a prequel to that excellent novel, and it provides much more background to a beloved character from Crooked Heart – Noel’s godmother Mattie.

This book fills an interesting gap in what we think of when we think of the Sufragettes – the time after the vote had been won. Those women founght long and hard and with no thought for their personl comfort and safety to win the vote for women, but after being so militant and so alive during that time, how did they slot back into their lives afterwards? Did they just fade back into the kitchen?

The inter-war period is often shown as just being The Great Gatsby, then the Great Depression, but it’s a fascinating period when the role of women, forever changed by the suffrage movement, began an evolution that was accelerated by the Second World War, and is still going on today.

Mattie fills her time lecturing on the fight for the vote, showing endless slides to groups of bored women, until a chance meeting leads her to start a group for young ladies in an attempt to counter the growth of fascist organisations – especially that of an old comrade. Although things go awry for her, Mattie keeps her can-do attitude and an optimistic view of things as best she can.

In Crooked Heart, Mattie is mentioned sparingly, as she unfortunately develops dementia, but even through the depiction of her as an elderly lady, the Mattie from Old Baggage is still there – a no-nonsense woman of bravery and spirit who wants to do good in the world. As a character, she is just wonderful.

Both books are heartwarming to read. The writing is very funny, but in a wry and knowing way and there is a lot to think about once you’ve read Old Baggage in particular. I guess it strikes a chord with me, dealing as it does with the place of older women in society. This is something I think about a lot and it’s compelling to watch Mattie try to start again in establishing herself after such an action-packed early life.

As you can imagine, both Crooked Heart and Old Baggage are highly recommended by me and I’d recommend reading both side by side to properly appreciate Mattie as the one-of-a-kind she is.

Old Baggage is published by Black Swan.

To find out more about Lissa Evans and her other, wonderful books, why not check out her website? Alternatively, you can connect with her on Twitter, where she is as witty and on point as her books are!

Please note: I received a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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