Sunday, 26 October 2008

More Mapp

There was a period earlier in the year when most of my posts seemed to be about how wonderful E.F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia books are. I might assume for this post that readers know everything about the series...(for those who don't, and indeed those who do, I came across a wonderful Mapp and Lucia Glossary site today). My first foray into eulogising was this post, and every now and then I remark on the sheer brilliance and wit and innocent charm of these novels - I paused after re-reading the first four, and have two left unread...

And then a bit later I interviewed Guy Fraser-Sampson (read the interview here), and he told me all about the new Mapp and Lucia book he'd written - Major Benjy, who, as fans will recall, is the local blustery military man in Tilling, and eventual husband of Miss Mapp. Major Benjy isn't a sequel (as Tom Holt's additions to the Mapp and Lu
cia canon were) but slips into Tilling history between Miss Mapp and Mapp and Lucia - in fact, the last few pages see Lucia's arrival at Mallards, Miss Mapp's house. Little did we know what took place mere hours before...

I don't want to ruin the plot, so shall skirt about that and talk about the style instead - what is obvious throughout is that Guy loves the characters, and knows them inside out. He read the books as a child and has read them many times since, and all their foibles and peculiarities are in tact. For example, this paragraph about Susan Wyse (once Susan Poppit):
It was of course their second visit to the Wyses in two days and the only change appeared to be that Susan's M.B.E. has been inadvertently placed in an even more prominent position, this time on the hall table where it could hardly fail to be seen as people left their hats and gloves. Unfortunately Susan did not seem to notice this until after the last guest had arrived, whereupon she gave a little scream of horror and snatched it up, exclaiming "oh, what will those servants do next?" as she did so. ... Miss Mapp said sweetly "dear Susan, in all the many times I have admired your medal I have never seen it looking so impressive. A pity you are not wearing your furs tonight; it would set them off so nicely."

So the characters are all there - Miss Mapp, Major Benjy, the Wyses, Diva Plaistow, Quaint Irene... and Lucy. Like Elaine (see her lovely review here) I had only the smallest recollection of Irene's 'companion' Lucy, but she is rather brought to the fore in Major Benjy - and is symptomatic of the aspect of Fraser-Sampson's novel which I least liked. Tilling has been rather over-sexualised, sometimes quite shockingly so - yes, gentle in comparison to most novels, but still rather more than Benson's innocent, leave-it-to-the-imagination society warranted.

This aside, the novel is a joy - the incidents don't always have Benson's subtle touch, but there is a little storyline concerning a cake-baking competition which would be worthy of the original series. And mostly he has got the quiet back-stabbing, social-climbing, gossipy, cheerful and insouciant style just right - I can't see any excuse for a Mapp and Lucia fan not to own this book. If you like the series, or know anyone who likes the series, then I demand you go and get a copy - like Elaine I welcome any addition to the canon, and though not perfectly Bensonian, it's not far off.

1 comment:

  1. I'm just reading the Mapp and Lucia books for the very first time (halfway through Miss Mapp) and was wondering if Major Benjy was worth adding to the list. Thanks to your review, I now know that it is.

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