Diary of an Ordinary Woman by Margaret Forster

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Diary of an Ordinary Woman by Margaret Forster

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: Written in diary form, this novel charts the life of Millicent King. From a teenager through to her twilight years, here is a personal journey with chunks of social/historical and political highlights of the times added in for a well-rounded story.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: February 2011
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099449287

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After reading the introduction, I couldn't help but sneak a sly read at the author's note right at the end of the novel. I don't usually do this. I'm glad I did as the information is both surprising and revelatory. Back to the beginning and Chapter 1 ... We meet the 13 year old Millicent in 1914. By her written statements and recorded mannerisms, we see that she's a girl who knows her own mind. For example, she thinks writing in her diary every single day could be dull and boring so she's made a golden rule that she's only going to write something down when she feels like it. Some may call her precocious but I liked Millicent right from the start. Courtesy of her diary we find out that she's part of a large and boisterous family. She doesn't appreciate all the noise and chatter from her siblings. She craves peace and quiet to think and to read. She's a prolific reader. She also believes that she's smart and clever and wants to 'do' something with her life when she grows up. She's not sure what exactly but she certainly doesn't want to be a mere housewife and mother.

As Millicient starts to chart the years ... 1915, 1916, 1917 etc we get a better idea of her family life in London, for example. There's a lovely line early on which made me smile when Millicent states Christmas Day was a great disappointment to me, I must confess. You can see that she's got a terrific command of the English language from an early age. I'm a bit surprised that Millicent didn't try fiction but obviously her precious (and they are very precious) diaries are enough for her. And along the way she is more than happy to write down what she's currently reading - and give a micro-review while she's at it.

As the style of the novel is in diary form you may think it a little stilted and you may also think that there's very little scope for variation. Forster is a skilful writer. Her style is delightful. At times (via Millicient) serious, at times playful but never dull. It's a very easy book to get connected with. I was hooked right from the first paragraph. I suppose, if you think about it, it's a tall order to write straight prose, page after page, covering almost a century (Millicent lives to a ripe old age). But it worked for me.

Without wishing to give too much away, the novel spans two world wars as well as important political and social changes. Millicent does a sterling job of describing the horrors of war (the bombing of London in the second world war and Millicent's account of it are poignant) as it affects her and also her family. And as Millicent is such an interesting and intelligent person, her diary entries reflect this. Terrific stuff. You may have already guessed that the family is middle-class, comfortably off but not rich. Many of the family members have their share of personal tragedy. The central location for most of the book is London but we do cover other parts of England as well.

I have to say that for the times she lived in (as a young woman) Millicent was a feisty individual and I both loved and admired her for this. I did not tire of hearing all about her various escapades. This is the first book I've read by Forster but it won't be the last. An engrossing story, intelligently written. Thoroughly recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy The Personal Story Of Rachel Dupree by Ann Weisgarber.

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