A Notable Woman by Jean Lucey Pratt and Simon Garfield

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A Notable Woman by Jean Lucey Pratt and Simon Garfield

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: 60 years of journals documenting the life of an ordinary woman, this is a compelling if lengthy read
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 736 Date: November 2015
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1782115700

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Jean Lucy Pratt was, as the title aptly puts it, a notable woman at a time when that wasn't always easy. She attended university in the 1920s, opened her own business in the 1950s and did an awful lot of interesting and occasionally less interesting things in between. She wasn't anyone particularly well known, but her life was documented in fine detail through the diaries she wrote, starting at age 15 and ending weeks before her death in the 1980s. As someone who kept a daily diary for a mere 10 years, from 11 to 21, I admire her persistence. And you are welcome to view these, too, after my death though they should come with a warning that at times my writings are slightly more risqué than Miss Pratt's.

Smut is something that does not really feature in this book. Despite her entry from 1941 which reads I want, I need a husband she ultimately dies alone, single and childless. If ever there were a clichéd cat lady, this is she. And I found it rather sad. I invested time and effort in this woman. I wanted her to have a happy ending, and for her this may have been a man with whom to grow old, though this was occasionally called into doubt. She writes in later life that she is glad to be free of pesky offspring. At one point she is advised to stay away from pregnant woman and babies as a result of a medical issue, and her response is classic: I wondered about the cats, but had a word with the vet…

Jean's life is not always that interesting but it is real. She documents without too much self-pity the struggles she faces through the war and beyond, her family dynamic (a mother who has been replaced by a step mother, a father whose attentions are now diverted away from her) and the pain and suffering of running your own bookshop. As a puritan who loves the written word she is horrified by the idea that she could increase the security of the shop by branching out into stamps, stationery and cigarettes (though her penchant for smoking should have meant that final one would be something of a convenience). Away from romantic drama that so often dominates fictional diaries, it was nice to read about a real person and the more banal parts of her life through the years.

This book, as so many diaries are, was immediately easy to read because of the format. It has been edited in places, some things omitted and others amended with footnotes of explanation, but it still remains a weighty tome. My only criticism is the sheet size of the book which made it virtually impossible to carry round with me for reading emergencies (bus journeys, post office queues, implausibly long elevator rides). All in one volume it is rather cumbersome, and a number of shorter books covering the same content would have made it a lot easier for my purposes.

That said, I know not everyone needs their books to be portable in quite the same way. In the end it was quite nice to have the whole story in one go without waiting for a sequel, and it was quite satisfying to turn page after page and watch Miss Pratt age.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending us this book. It was a privilege to read, and inspired me to think about journaling, or at least blogging, once more.

If real life diaries are your thing, we can also recommend Ruth Maier's Diary: A Young Girl's Life Under Nazism by Ruth Maier, Jamie Bulloch (Translator) and Jan Erik Vold (Editor)

Buy A Notable Woman by Jean Lucey Pratt and Simon Garfield at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Notable Woman by Jean Lucey Pratt and Simon Garfield at Amazon.co.uk


Buy A Notable Woman by Jean Lucey Pratt and Simon Garfield at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Notable Woman by Jean Lucey Pratt and Simon Garfield at Amazon.com.

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