The golden, but flawed burden of the memories we carry with us from youth is the subject of Lissa Evans’ beautiful novel, which tells the story of erstwhile suffragette Matilda Simpkin. She is not taking kindly to middle-age but stands, wooden club in hand, against the rising tide of new, disturbing reactionary politics, threatening the rights of women even as they are granted the vote in 1928. But while Mattie is eagle-eyed about the dangers of grand political trends—of fascism and its indoctrination of the young—she remains blind to the personal fallibilities of some of the people she loves and adores. Worse, she falls victim to her own pride when a narrow-minded opponent casts aspersions upon her closest friend, and stands in danger of losing her dearest companion in life because she is fearful of prejudice and its attendant horrors. Will Mattie understand that friendship comes in many forms, and that a devotion to the living should take preference over her reverence towards the dead? Only when Mattie can admit to herself that someone she has idolized her entire life was not perfect, while someone else, who has stood by her, is waiting to be recognized as a far worthier object of her love, will she be able to turn her life around.
Mattie last appeared in The Crooked Heart, where she succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease during the London Blitz, and like that book, Old Baggage divides between a mature and a juvenile perspective. The plucky Ida, whom she encounters when Mattie chucks a bottle at her, provides a powerful counterpoint to the older woman’s narrative, her near fall and subsequent salvation showing us what is at risk—nothing less than the wellbeing of young souls and bodies—when the older generation fails in its duty towards its daughters and sons. Highly recommended.