A Young Lady’s Miscellany by Auriel Roe – the story of a life in the late twentieth century.

A Young Lady’s Miscellany by Auriel Roe

The story of a young woman’s life is an interesting topic for a book, especially when it is as honest and thoughtful as this book. It is a comprehensive vivid book of reminiscence, subtly referring to a Victorian book of manners and conduct which was discovered in the house of a grandmother. Auriel’s life has been unconventional, partly as a result of her parent’s separation and her being the only child left at home. This book features her experiences at a variety of schools and educational establishments, her attempts to find a relationship, her experiments with clothes and image. It introduces a range of characters who are lovingly described, chiefly her two grandmothers, May Fielding and Manda Mossop. They are as unlike as possible in terms of physical appearance, and there are other differences. There is a point at which Manda provides a refuge for Auriel, and she is a vital part of her life. 

This is a story of a girl who grows up in various places in various ways, but she is always blessed with a clear insight into the lives of others and most particularly herself. Thus her adventures, the male friends, her ambitions are all described in a flowing and largely unstructured way, apart from simple chronology. Not that it is purely linear; as things in her adult life trigger memories she will revert to a childhood scenario. This book can be described as a miscellany of thoughts and reactions to what was happening around her which was very context bound. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this unusual book.

The book opens with a vivid description of May and Manda and the town where they lived and the author’s parents grew up, Whitehaven in West Cumbria. The use of the various rooms in the house, childish incidents, the differences between the attitudes of the grandmothers are all remembered carefully and expanded. She appears to have a very clear memory of conversations many years before, which is not so remarkable as they are the sort of situations which stick in the mind, as well as a bit of fictional tidying up perhaps being added. She is good at finding descriptions for people which are memorable, such as one grandmother being as having an “ample bosom” and the other having a “rail thin torso”. One young man is summed up as Percy Bysshe Shelley for his appearance and choice of clothes, which was in contrast to Auriel’s chosen clothes of bright colours at the time. She largely gave up on school at one point, although she had good memories of a particular cookery teacher whose helpful comments echo in her mind over the years. Her ambitions range from a temporary obsession with feet through to being a professional actor, and she takes some interesting part time and temporary jobs which she writes about with care. They produce some touching moments, especially as a volunteer when a student. 

This is an impressive book of memories with a strong sense of place and time. Auriel is a clever writer who has transformed her memories of growing up into an interesting and entertaining book. It is a fascinating story of the coming to adulthood in the late twentieth century of a thoughtful and able writer, and I recommend this book as an enjoyable read.