I wanted to love this book and almost succeeded. The first half, yes. But the second part nearly wrecked the first half. Much of the small, but important, charm dissipated (as it turned into a regular sort of a story with the sort of ongoing action we're used to in books rather than introspection)...and it had too many incidents that bordered on twee.
Cold, hard reality pushed away with books and reading--that was the point of the whole exercise and it was lost in that second half which was too modern, not to mention too neatly tied up when the truth is sometimes you can't do more than cope and that's why books help.
I took the failure personally and I think I finally figured out why.
When I was young I had an English friend named Rosemary who could and would drag up quotations to fit any moment. Rosemary was at least 40 years older than I (older than me is what I want to write, so it must be wrong), but she was my friend. She didn't allow nonsense like age get in the way. She'd lived through WW2 as a WAC and she mentioned poems that kept her going. She didn't go on and on about how dark days were made better, etc. She didn't analyze it at all. She'd simply quote a bit of verse and say it had been something she thought of often.
Rosemary wasn't unusual--it had to be a national characteristic, based on all those characters in books who start quoting things in conversation. Everyone in Barbara Pym's books can summon a bit of literature. Rumpole has his Wordsworth. Even woolly-headed Betram Wooster is pulling up bits of poetry--perhaps mocking the national tendency. ** The first half of TGLAPPS felt like a love-poem to Rosemary and other people I've known like her. It was a tribute that I especially appreciated because all the people I know like that are dead.. except Margaret. She's still kicking around, thank God.
There's something elegant about a book that, if it isn't creating art, at least uses the words by the poets rather than delving into the actual lives of the poets. The first half of the book was a celebration of literature, the second, a kind of MTV version---for instance that island visit from Oscar Wilde that seemed to mean more than the actual words he'd written.
In the second half the people were less real. The letter from the whistler annoyed me. The Frenchwoman didn't seem like a human, just a representation of refugee. A whole passel of action/stuff was shoved in to entertain rather than add depth.
Literature had added a new way of seeing and living through tragic conditions. The second part seemed to ignore that and only the conditions are described, and they weren't new or seen in a new light. Yo, and the story got silly, what with Bille B and what not. Certain characters threatened to go over the edge of precious in the first half. They jumped right off the cliff in the second.
It wasn't terrible. Actually if I hadn't fallen in love with the first half, I would have enjoyed the story just fine. It wasn't really bad by my usual standards (and my usual standards are lax. After all, I read a lot of trashy romance and love the stuff. See entry below this).
Good stuff? I liked the fact that the little girl didn't turn into an easy soul and that she adopted a horrible lisp. And I think the character of uber-heroine Elizabeth was sort of OTT but she didn't fall completely apart in that second half. She went almost entirely Mary Sue, but the fact that she could annoy people (and you could see why they were annoyed) was good.
Anyway it was the contrast between the two parts made me see how the Old Ways are dying and that makes me sad.
**Never mind that the poor little chickabiddies in English schools were obviously forced to memorize reams of poetry, a probably useless exercise. I got the reward of their hard work.
The most I can manage are old Beatles songs and some throwaway lines from Archy and Mehitabel. There's a dance in the old dame yet.