This post is part of a blog tour organised by Random Things Blog Tours. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.
“What’s a girl of fourteen to do when she finds herself alone in the world with no one to guide her? Why, follow the Victorian self-help guide, A Young Lady’s Miscellany, of course! The trouble is, the advice it offers proves less than helpful in a modern context.
“Muddling through, often with disastrous results, she finds a friend in her recently widowed grandmother, the door to whose small house is always open. Inept at any job she is able to get and pursued by a slew of unsuitable suitors, she must instead spend a decade navigating her own miscellany in order to come of age.”
In Auriel Roe’s memoir, A Young Lady’s Miscellany, we follow the author from her teens to her early twenties as she tries to navigate life and love with very little parental support. The book is a chronological patchwork of memories from school, college, university, work, travel, and family life, stuffed full of entertaining episodes and anecdotes but also more serious material.
Roe has a real gift for observing and describing people. Over the course of the book, we meet a huge number of classmates, friends, bullies, teachers, family members, colleagues, potential love interests, and more, and the little details she includes really bring them to life and distinguish them. This is especially true of some of her teachers, as well as the many rather strange and disappointing boys she seems cursed to meet. Many people come and go within a chapter or two throughout this book, but because she often finds something funny or astute to say about them, they stick in your memory.
Two constants, though, are Roe’s two very different grandmothers, austere Victorian May and jolly Edwardian Manda. She starts the book with their stories, and descriptions of their personalities and homes as she experienced them as a child - which as a lapsed historian of childhood I naturally enjoyed - then uses them as touchstones throughout the book. This book takes its title from one owned by May, and it’s Manda’s death that brings Roe’s memoir to a close.
While this book is mainly funny, there are some serious bits too. The bullying Roe experiences and witnesses at the school she goes to in Whitehaven after her parents split up is shocking - I didn’t blame her for becoming a school refuser and was pleased that she could take refuge at Manda’s every day instead - as are the experiences she has when she tries moving in with her dad for a while. I was also moved by her descriptions of working her holiday job working at a detention centre for women with young children awaiting trial.
A Young Lady’s Miscellany is entertaining, moving, and brilliantly observed.