Opening sentence: “When I think of my grandmother, it is thus: seated on a high stool, her stool, in the negligent but alert position of a nightclub singer.”
I have the great honour of kicking off this wonderful blog tour for The Last Landlady by Laura Thompson. This book is sub-titled An English Memoir and is Laura’s homage to her formidable grandmother, Violet: the first woman to be given a publican’s license in her own right and a truly glamorous, confident embodiment of the character you might typically conjure up if asked to describe a landlady. However, Violet was so much more than that, ‘She was herself, always and only. But images do not develop in a vacuum.’ Laura looks at the idea of the landlady and the myth that surrounds it.
Laura spent much of her childhood in the grandmother’s pub (I mean that her grandmother looked after her after school, rather than she developed an early love of gin) and this book is a glimpse of a child’s view of an adult world, specifically that of a country pub with its own set of customs and unspoken rules. I love Laura Thompson’s way with words. She has a very lyrical quality in her tone, which fits the reminiscing that happens in this book and also makes it a delight to read. For example, she describes landladies as: ‘part mother, part nanny, part sorceress, part goddess.’
Alongside her reflections, Laura looks at the function of pubs in English culture and how their nature has changed through the years. Apparently, ‘about half of Britain’s pubs have closed in the past century.’ This is a sad fact as I do love a pub in the vein Laura describes – more homely than polished with questionable stains on the carpets and definitely not an on-trend cocktail in sight. I have a soft spot for a Sam Smith pub and on their website they reference George Orwell’s essay on his perfect pub – The Moon Under Water (which Laura also talks about in this book) – and say they try to adhere to his ideal and keep this idea of the classic pub alive – have a little read and see what you think.
The Last Landlady is a both a very interesting and loving character study and a look at a section of English culture that has definitely played a role in my life and has a rich, evolving history that was lovely to discover here.
/ Published by Unbound. Paperback released 5th September 2019
/ 272 pages
/ Rating: 4/5
About the Author:
Laura Thompson won the Somerset Maugham award with her first book, The Dogs, and wrote two books about horse racing while living in Newmarket. Her biographical study of Nancy Mitford, Life in a Cold Climate, appeared in 2003 (re-issued 2015) and was followed by a major biography of Agatha Christie. A Different Class of Murder: The Story of Lord Lucan was published in 2014, and 2015’s Take Six Girls: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters was recently sold to television. She lives in Richmond.
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