Sally Flint

Book Review of Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

This is an utter treat of a read that should not just be dismissed as ”yet another suffragette book’ or ‘a quick beach read.’ There is no doubt that  is incredibly accessible and a quick read, but the content, of Old Baggage, whilst on the surface whimsical, is moving, insightful and serious.

Old Baggage is whimsical and fun, but ultimately serious and absorbing.

The protagonist of Old Baggage is Matilda Simpkin (Mattie), whoo in her youth was a militant suffragette. We meet her in late middle-age where she is searching for purpose in life and is determined to keep society moving forward progressively. She is appalled by the lack of political knowledge and interest the younger generation of women seem to have. The issues in Old Baggage are contemporary; the text explores gender expectations, loyalty, the signficance of social class, It is a novel I would definitely recommend to my girls or myself when I was younger.  the rise of facism and much more. In fact,, there is little linked to womanhood that isn’t considered. It is fascinating to observe how society has and hasn’t moved on and a treat to gain insight into the suffragette movement from an insider (abeit a fictonal one!). 

Mattie is a flawed character, who makes many mistakes during the telling of the story, but she is impossible not to love. Somehwere between a PE mistress, and a philosopher she refuses to be pigeon-holed and owns her errors; she is a go-getter and full of boundless enenrgy. My own favour charater is the Flea (Flossie Lee) who tempers Mattie’s exuberance perfectly and is wise and profound. 

The humour in some of the exchanges between Mattie and Lee had me laughing out loud, and the humility in the apology letters from Mattie to Lee was hugely moving. 

Book Discussion Questions for Old Baggage

Explore the significanceof the title Od Baggage?
Who was your favourite character in the book and why? 

Did you find the book realistic? If so why, if not why not? 
Had Mattie not cheated what do you think would have happened to the Amazons?
ow significant is 'social class' in the novel? Ida feels that everything comes easy to those from the upper classes with wealth. Do you agree?
Look around your bookclub members? Who do you think is most like Mattie and why? Don't say anything you might regret!
Ida's journey to becoming a nurse, arguably has an element of Eliza Doolittle about it? Did you find her story believable. If not which parts specifically were you not convinced by?
What do you think would happen to Mattie and the child next? 
How much sympathy did you have for Ida leaving the Amazons and instead joining the Empire Youth League? 
Do you think that Lissa Evan's rather gung ho retelling of Mattie's arrests and the hunger strikes undermined the seriousness of what the suffragetes and suffragists went through? Or is she reflecting, perhaps a coping strategy that Mattie might have used to manage the trauma of her time imprisoned?
What is your opinion of Mattie's neice Inez? 

Bookclub Questions for Old Baggage (if you haven't read the book!)

Do you think you would have been part of the suffragette movement?

Mattie was blind to the flaws in her brother’s personality, especially his lechery. In your experience do you think family members are far more forgiving of the weaknesses of the male members of the family than tehy are the female members? 

Mattie uses letter writing as a means of expressing herself calmly and rationally, for example she writes three letters to Florrie. Which do you prefer, written communication or face to face chat when communicating something difficult. 

Mattie was able to easily walk into a role teaching languages, despite having no experience and, I think, no qualifications. Presumably once in the classroom she was left to teach in whatever style suited her. Do you think teaching is too prescriptive these days? 

The book begins in 1928, How have things changed and stayed the same for women since then? 

Emmeline Pankhurst was seen, by some, including Mattie as betrating the Suffragette course by moving to France and running a tea shop.. Considering everything she had been through do  you think this is fair? 

After Mattie realises that she has treated Florrie badly she says to her, something along the lines of the ‘do quite well together’ (I can’t remember the exact quote? Explore what the ingredients of a good relationship are? Do you think you could live and rub along with a platonic partner as well as you could with someone with whom you were in a romantic relationship?

I hadn't realised that Lisa Evans also wrote Wed Wabbit. That's also a great read, but if I had to choose I'd say this is better.

Summing up Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

This is an absolute gem of a book. The whimsical writing style is joyful. The only danger of it is that it may distract readers into not taking seriously enough the issues explored. I have had this book on my shelf a long time; I even thought I had probably read it and it had failed to make a lasting impression. How wrong I was. As a bookclub read it will likely provoke peels of laughter, anecdotes about grannies and great grannies own involvement in the sufragette movement, along with plenty of brandy (actually probably replace brandy with wine or gin) drinking as the bookclub members raise a glass to Mattie and the Flea! 

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