Mapp and Lucia; Lucia’s Progress

I recently took a trip to California to visit my sister and her new baby. I’ve kind of been trying to ration E.F. Benson’s Lucia novels, because they’re such a joy in trying circumstances — the last time I read one was in terrible weather as I was producing food for seventy-five children — but they’re loaded on to my Kindle, and during this trip, I couldn’t resist reading two of them at one gulp. They were absolutely delicious, as I’ve come to expect.

In Mapp and Lucia, the marvelous Lucia and the scheming Miss Mapp meet for the first time. This book, I think, is the best I’ve read so far: the two women, accustomed to manoeuvering themselves to the top of their respective social worlds, clash over and over again, and the results are so, so funny. Elizabeth Mapp is so straightforwardly gossipy, pushy, and vicious, while Lucia’s tactics remind me of a martial art: over and over again, with a neat little twist, she allows her enemy’s own overweening strength to trip her up. And when the two women set to sea on an overturned kitchen table (no, I’m not joking), it’s not just the dangers of the open ocean that make you wonder whether they will both return alive…

After Mapp and Lucia, Lucia’s Progress feels quieter by comparison. Yet the subtleties and intricacies of Tilling life — fads, elections, real estate, quarrels, marriage — wind around,  and Benson shows the way people in a small, close-knit community deal with one-upmanship, ageing, snobbery, impulses to generosity, and mutual loathing. It’s a light-hearted book, and extremely funny, but insightful too. If you haven’t read these, you’re really in for a treat.

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14 Responses to Mapp and Lucia; Lucia’s Progress

  1. Lisa says:

    Mapp & Lucia is my favorite in the series, I think, because we get Riesholme and its Elizabethan pagent, and then we get to watch Lucia meep Miss Mapp and the rest of Tilling. Even though I’d already met all the Tilling folk in Miss Mapp, I thought that book was quite as lively as the other books – no doubt it’s the lack of Lucia.

    • Jenny says:

      I think that’s why I liked it best, too. In fact, I found myself wondering during Lucia’s Progress just what the Riseholme folk were doing with their empty lives!

  2. Simon T says:

    I adore the series – I read the first four, had a break of a few years, then went back to the beginning and read all six. Apparently Tom Holt’s sequels are very good too – they’re waiting for me.

    You bring out all the things I love about the series, and have me dying to read them again!

    • Jenny says:

      I didn’t know there were sequels! I am always very wary of someone else taking up the reins of a much-beloved author, so I think I will wait until you read them and see if they are any good. :)

  3. I laughed reading this review. I haven’t read any but your review shows it would be fun.

  4. Joanne says:

    These were some of the first books I borrowed from the library when I first got my adult ticket. I would love to read them again.

  5. Julie D. says:

    I love Mapp and Lucia and haven’t read any of them in so long! Thank you for the reminder. :-)

  6. I have used the Lucia books for the same comforting purpose. Have you seen the brilliant 1980s TV version? If not, you need to Netflix it. Wonderful stuff.

    • Jenny says:

      Oh, Thomas, thank you! I have had that version suggested to me several times by Netflix, but as you no doubt know, their algorithm is not infallible, and I had hesitated. I will get it straightaway, maybe this weekend. I’m so pleased to hear it’s good.

  7. litlove says:

    I love these books. I read them when I had pneumonia very badly – they were the best medicine I ever took! But at some point I should read them again to free them from the lingering associations of illness. They are just delightful.

    • Jenny says:

      So you know what I mean about their being wonderful in trying circumstances! Poor thing, pneumonia is awful. And you can’t laugh! But these books would be perfect when you’re sick.

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