Published towards the beginning of what those in the know consider to be one of her most fruitful periods, What Not is a forgotten gem in a prolific career. As well as writing 23 novels, Macaulay (1881-1958) was a poet, journalist, broadcaster and public intellectual. A stalwart of the London literary scene, she was known for her caustic wit, and although her work was far more popular in her lifetime than that of her peer Virginia Woolf (something that annoyed Woolf), it hasn’t stood the test of time so well.
What Not carries echoes of the US’s eugenics movement, which enforced sterilisation of certain groups and made it illegal for those with “deficiencies” to marry. Other references to reality are comical – an endorsement of a brain-training programme reads: “From an inveterate writer of letters to newspapers. I no longer do this.” The book is a protest against social control, but a love story at heart. As Kitty and Nicholas’s love grows like an “embryo”, Macaulay emphasises its naturalness: “their relationship burgeoned like flowers in spring”. Her writing is stirring, funny, uniquely imaginative. This book should not be forgotten again.