This is another review in the vein of “I love the author but I quite like this book”. In this case, more specifically, it’s “I love a book by this author so much that its inky veins somehow run in mine, that I read it once a year at least and every time I notice something new, that its phrasing and insight sometimes shapes how I see a particular kind of landscape, or light, or expression on a face”–but this book I’m reviewing is not like that. The book by Dodie Smith that I love so much is, of course, I Capture the Castle, a fresh, sharp, funny, wistful look at coming-of-age between the wars, a book of collapsing castles and midnight swans and midsummer bonfires and glittering fortunes and cartwheels on beaches and the lonely melancholy of being teenaged and unloved.
The Town in Bloom is a pleasant read. A girl on the edge of adulthood who has been raised on George Bernard Shaw and Restoration drama arrives in London to make her fortune on the stage; she arrives at a boarding-house and is immediately nicknamed Mouse by the girls who become her friends and almost-wholehearted confidantes. Mouse’s confidence lands her a starting job as a junior secretary in a theatre; there she develops an almost-requited passion and devotion for the married owner/director/lead actor. Meanwhile, her friends Lilian de Luxe, Molly Byblow and Zelle have intrigues and secrets of their own.
What I liked about The Town in Bloom is Mouse’s confidence; she goes after the man she wants and the job she wants with enthusiasm–this is less a tale of a country mouse’s ruin in the big bad city, than that of a frisky kitten disguised as a mouse becoming a cat. Sure she’s naive, and occasionally annoying, but weren’t we all at 18? She frankly enjoys her life and her surroundings, and her sexual and romantic awakening, and there’s an enjoyable sense of quirky adventure to the whole thing, even if it never really coalesces into something that seems real.
Title quotation from “The Lights of London” by Louise Imogen Guiney.