1920; 244 pages. New Author? : Yes, but not a new series. Book #1 (out of 6) of E.F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia series. Genre : Humor, British Fiction. Overall Rating : 5½*/10.
Mrs. Emmeline “Lucia” Lucas should like to be properly addressed as “Queen Lucia”. Don’t take my word for it; ask her. Oh, her queendom is rather small – a quaint little English village called Riseholme, close to London. And her realm is limited to the social and cultural goings-on in Riseholme. Don’t even think about holding a social event without first clearing it with her, and second inviting her.
Lately some of Lucia’s Riseholme subjects seem to be acting a bit, well, rebellious. There’s Daisy Quantock with her dabbling in the ridiculous practices of spiritualism. And even Lucia’s best friend (not including her husband), Georgie Pillson, at times seems to be a bit reluctant in sharing all of the neighborhood gossip.
But uneasy lies the head that wears the crown when a new socialite moves to Riseholme. Someone who sings better than Lucia and speaks better Italian than her. Someone who could seriously threaten the “Queen” in “Queen Lucia”.
We wouldn’t start a war, of course. That would be undignified. But some spirited competition for the title is perhaps called for.
What’s To Like...
Queen Lucia was published in 1920, so the reader gets a glimpse of life in small-town England a century ago. The tone is lighthearted and pokes gentle fun at those trying to climb the post-Victorian social ladder. Most of the characters are likeably obnoxious, which seems like an oxymoron.
The book is written in “English”, as opposed to “American”, and I always like that. It means the (Yankee) reader will encounter lots of strange words and phrases. You can ride in a “fly”, which I gather is slang for a 1920’s cab. And you can compliment someone by calling them a “brick”, which I’d never heard of before.
Italian gets spoken quite often, a lot of times mangled. I thought that was kewl. Yet beneath all the social humor, I thought the reader gets a good glimpse of life back there and then. You’re going to laugh at the dress codes – Hightum, Tightum, and Scrub.
There is a running theme on spiritualism, which I gather was quite trendy in those days. Daisy Quantock bounces from Christian Science to Uric Acid, to an Indian Guru, then to séances, followed by “automatic writing” (directed by a spirit) and from there to palm reading. It all wraps up with magic pills that will make you grow several inches taller in just a couple weeks. Let's hope the partaker of the pills remembers to stop taking them before he becomes a beanpole. One gets the feeling that E.F. Benson took a dim view of all this.
Kewlest New Word. . .
Gladstone bag (n.; phrase) : A bag-like briefcase having two equal compartments joined by a hinge. (Google-image it).
Others : diffy (adj.); tiffin (n.); truckled (v.); planchette (n.); apophthegm (n.); bibelots (n.); hip-bath (n.).
With regard to religion finally, it may be briefly said that she believed in God in much the same way as she believed in Australia, for she had no doubt whatever as to the existence of either, and she went to church on Sunday in much the same spirit as she would look at a kangaroo in the Zoological Gardens, for kangaroos came from Australia. (loc. 197)
Georgie rapidly considered what Hermy’s and Ursy’s comments would be if, when they arrived tomorrow, he was found doing exercises under the tuition of a Guru. Hermy, when she was not otter-hunting, could be very sarcastic, and he had a clear month of Hermy in front of him, without any otter-hunting, which, so she had informed him, was not possible in August. This was mysterious to Georgie, because it did not seem likely that all otters died in August. (loc. 482)
The copyright on Queen Lucia has expired so you can always get it for free at Amazon. There are also a couple versions of it that go for $0.99-$3.99 (including one annotated version) but why pay when you don’t have to?
“Vermouth always makes me brilliant unless it makes me idiotic, but we’ll hope for the best.” (loc. 2184)
Queen Lucia is E.F. Benson’s first book in the 6-volume “Lucia” series. Curiously, I became aware of the series through the author Tom Holt, who I very much enjoy, and who wrote 2 sequels for it in the 1980’s. The one I read is reviewed here. Frankly, I think Holt improved things.
The main problem is the action – there is none. Our characters talk and plan and scheme and gossip. But very little happens beyond that. The secondary issue is the writing style. Benson frequently gets quite wordy about trivial things. All of this leads to slow spots. The book is short, but it took me a while to trudge through it. It also doesn’t help that the titular character is not very heroic.
Still, if you can make it through all the slow spots, you will be treated to an ending that has a twist or two, and is, I thought, very well done. And that makes up for the tediousness.
5½ Stars. Add 2 stars if you really liked movies such as The Breakfast Club and Return of the Secaucus Seven. They didn't have any action in them either, and some people seemed to love them.