A Notable Woman is an extraordinary book – painful reading at times, but very worthwhile. Simon Garfield has edited the journals of a 20th century woman. Jean Lucey Pratt kept journals for 61 years up until a couple of months before her death and the journals record her daily life, her feelings and what was going on at the time.
There are small details that make it incredibly fascinating – Jean loved cats for example, and there is the question about how you fed cats during the Second World War, and there is also her growing realisation that her cigarette habit is doing serious harm to her health (smoking having been thought of as mostly harmless up until the 1950s).
But most of the book is about Jean’s loneliness. It makes for very painful reading at times and you rather wish a nice man would come along – or rather, that she would stop falling for such awful cads. Her descriptions of people are rather fabulous, if often unflattering, but there’s bravery running through the writing, a kind of unflinching determination to write about herself and what is going on in truthful terms.
The book is a perfect choice for book groups, as it is bound to elicit plenty of discussion. Just a warning though – it’s a whopper (700 plus pages).