Suffragette Matilda Simpkins helped win women the vote but now it's a 1928 and, in searching for a new and worthy cause, she does more harm than good to those she cares about. Old Baggage is wonderful, funny and sad. Every sentence is a joy.
A great novel should contain wonderful writing, interesting ideas and an absorbing plot - but most of all, what we remember about it are its characters. Mr Pickwick, Falstaff, Emma, Sherlock Holmes, Isabel Archer, Jeeves – these are what make fiction shine. A new star has been added to this constellation, and her name is Mattie Simpkin... A qualified doctor-turned-TV director (of, among other hits, Father Ted and The Kumars At No 42), Evans is entertaining in a way that makes it easy to overlook her intelligence and craft. A lesser writer would have transported us back 100 years to see the young Mattie heroically battling policemen and politicians to enable her sisters to win the vote. This, though, is the work of a novelist in her prime
I wish I could say the novel is brilliant. It’s told with vigour and it may be just the thing to take to the beach this August, if you love the suffragettes and still haven’t had enough of them. I found it rather unrealistic and over-written, full of women making too-clever remarks to each other... But full marks to Lissa Evans for making us think about what it would have been like to be an ex-suffragette when all the men you might have married had been killed at the Somme.
Evans’s previous comic novel, Their Finest Hour and a Half, about the making of a wartime propaganda film about Dunkirk, was justifiably acclaimed and filmed as Their Finest. Set amid bombs and blitzes, it evoked a gripping sense of peril and a strong period feel. Old Baggage is less sweeping, a study of aftermath and let-down rather than wit and optimism, but no less affecting for that. The indomitable Mattie is a creation as amusing as she is blinkered and egotistic.... Historical novels frequently shine a light on contemporary mores, and Old Baggage is a timely read, not only for the anniversaries it commemorates but because of the present hostility towards feminism. The joy of Mattie is not just that she would have seen it coming, but that she would have relished the battles ahead.