Saturday, 23 November 2013

No Love Lost by Margery Allingham



Novella: The Patient at Peacocks Hall



First published in book form 1954








The only unusual element that morning was provided by Rhoda. Once or twice I wondered if she was ill. She bustled about as if she was thinking of spring cleaning, and for ten minutes we had a wrangle because she objected to my clothes. I was very comfortable in slacks and a twin set, and her remarks on my ‘slovenliness’ and my ‘nice new red wool upstairs’ completely bewildered me. In the end I got the better of her by insisting on taking her temperature. It was normal but her pulse was slightly quick, and I recommended a sedative. She left me alone after that but I heard her go out to the back gate several times, which was puzzling, for no one goes calling in Mapleford on a Sunday…

[a little later] Percy nodded at me. ‘You change into a Christian skirt and pop down and settle the trouble,’ he said cheerfully. ‘Dr Linnett and I will have a smoke until you come back. It won’t take you ten minutes.’… At any rate, I got into my red wool and a coat faster than ever in my life, and was out on the road in less than five minutes…



observations: Rhoda, the housekeeper, knows that the narrator is going to have an important visitor, and wants her to look nice for him. How I wish I had come across this book when I wrote a piece on women in trousers in fiction, featured on the Guardian books blog. This would have been a nice 1950s reference - a Christian skirt! She is a doctor, and obviously cannot see a patient or a suitor while wearing slacks.

I was alerted to the existence of No Love Lost by the Passing Tramp blog: the book consists of two novellas – the other is Safer than Love – that Allingham wrote to be serialized in US magazines in the early 1950s: she made it plain she wrote them for the money. Bloomsbury Reader has re-published them as an ebook, and they are good enough as entertainment and an interesting sideways look at Allingham and her work. The settings are a small English village or town; both have a medical background; both are funny and satirical about the provincial atmosphere; and the minor details of life just after the Second World War are worth it in themselves. 


Allingham was wonderful at describing the strange corners of London – it’s what she’s famous for – but in fact lived much of her life elsewhere, and must have known small-town ways well. Both stories feature first-person narrations by feisty women with difficult and very relevant lovelives, going into jeopardy – all very different from the Campion books.

I enjoyed them very much, though that is partly because of having recently read the wonderful The Adventures of Margery Allingham – a biography by Julia Jones. It is fascinating to any fans of the writer, but it is also a model of how to do biography: sympathetic but realistic, very clear about what is fact and what is supposition, and very clear on what we need to know and what we’d like to know, and the line between them. Allingham’s long marriage is a matter of great mystery and speculation; her death was quite horrible and upsetting (she was sectioned to force her to have medical treatment), and Jones writes about both with wonderful, admirable tact. She also uses the literary works very convincingly as part of her picture of MA’s life – the book is highly recommended.

The picture is from the Dovima is Devine photostream.

8 comments:

  1. The biography sounds very interesting. The novellas not so much.

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    1. The stories are lightweight, though I did enjoy them. But the biography is terrific.

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  2. Moira - I've always liked Allingham's descriptions of London, too; I'm glad you brought them up. And honestly, not a lot of writers do novellas and short stories as well as they do novels, but I think Allingham did. This one sounds like a great little couple of novellas. And yes, how interesting about the trousers.You're inspiring me to think about how the clothes people wear affect people's judgement of, say, suspects or witnesses. Hmmm.....Thanks!

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    1. It's funny and significant isn't it? I just love the idea of 'a Christian skirt'!

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  3. I found it interesting that the heroine of this one was a doctor. Very different, I think, from the Golden Age era norm.

    I have blogged on this (thanks for the mention) and Hide My Eyes recently and found Julia's bio enormously helpful. I recently got the newer version of Kindle, with the whole story about Nancy Spain and Pip. Very sad for Margery.

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    1. Thank you for passing it on. Yes, her life story was so positive in some ways, and yet so sad in others. I did think that was an excellent biog.

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  4. Pass from me........my mum wrote me a note saying I could be excused

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    1. I'll need proof that the note wasn't forged. On my desk tomorrow.

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