By now you know I love Handheld Press and their dedication to reprinting work that has been unfairly forgotten. I was intrigued by the premise of Business As Usual, as it sounded like it might be similar to one of my favourites, Diary of a Provincial Lady – and though it’s definitely its own book, it’s just as delightful!
Book: Business as Usual by Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford
Read before: No
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Handheld Press. All opinions my own.
Presented as a series of letters, Business as Usual follows young graduate Hilary Fane as she attempts to make her way in 1930s London, determined to earn her own living for a year before returning to Edinburgh to marry her fiancé. We only see Hilary’s letters and memos, never any replies to her, which creates a really interesting monologue of sorts as we are left to fill in the blanks about what her correspondents might have been saying. It’s a testament to how very clever the writing is that you still get such a keen sense of the other characters, especially Basil, who never appears on the page. Peppered throughout are Hilary’s sketches, which are simple but very wittily observed.
I immediately fell in love with Hilary and her clever, no-nonsense attitude. She’s immensely likeable, not because she’s particularly sweet, but because she’s sarcastic, smart, and has a keen eye for the humour in bad situations. Occasionally she becomes maudlin – who wouldn’t, with a terribly-paid, stressful job, and a horrible living space? – but she’s never down for long, as she’s got that kind of resilience that makes you want her to succeed. I think she’ll appeal hugely to those of us who have also recently experienced a terrible first job and the stress of relying solely on oneself (I know I saw plenty of my own experience reflected!). The more I read of her letters to Basil (inferring his responses, of course), the less I thought of him, and I was extremely pleased to see that she too had little tolerance for his misogyny and misplaced protectiveness – she really is a terribly modern woman, for all the book was written in 1933.
Though it’s only a slim book, I found myself wanting to slow down and savour Business as Usual, because it’s just so charming. Much like Diary of a Provincial Lady, which I mentioned above, it dives into the mundanity of everyday life, but thrives on the strength of its narrator and her witty skewering of the society around her. I can see myself coming back to reread this often, and I’m definitely going to recommend it to friends who are in a similar stage of life to Hilary. I also think it would make a wonderful radio adaptation, with the right voice actress – Hilary’s whole world is spun so cleverly out of such a narrow set of letters, so it would be perfect for a monologue piece. The book is out on March 26th, so you have a little bit of a wait, but you can get your preorder in at the Handheld Press website!
Five out of five cats!