A few weeks ago I read Angela Huth’s Nowhere Girl, a beautifully-written novel about a young woman who has separated from her rather sappy second husband, Jonathan, a failed playwright. The narrator, Clare Lyall, is at loose ends in London: her first husband, Richard, has just died, and she is introduced at a party to Joshua, a man with a black eye who puts out cigarettes on his thumb.
Now doesn’t that tell you Joshua is bad news?
Clare recounts her story in that humorous, slightly hopeless tone that only an unconventional heroine of novels of the ’60s and ’70s can convey. Published in 1970, it is reminiscent of the early novels of Margaret Drabble, Penelope Mortimer, Paula Fox, and Nora Johnson. Huth, whom I knew previously from her 1994 novel Land Girls, now fits into my pantheon of ’70s literature.
Clare’s reflections are original and amusing. After her first husband’s funeral, she muses about the gaudy wreath taped onto the coffin, and his parents’ decision to cremate him.
To me, it no longer mattered that he had died. But I did wish they had pushed him overboard, which he would have liked, instead of decorating his coffin to look like something from a smorgasboard, and treating him to the absurdity of the afternoon’s performance. “
After the funeral, Clare sits on a park bench and talks to a lively old woman, Mrs. Fox, whose quiet sister, Edith, is on furlough for the day from the Gulliver Old People’s Home in Herne Bay. Mrs. Fox likes to hear the buses.
I never liked the quiet of the old days, you know. What I like is a supermarket on a Saturday morning. Or those demonstrations in Trafalgar Square. As a matter of fact, I was at one of those not long ago. I’m not quite sure what it was all about, to be honest, but there I was shouting away with the rest of them, and one of those policemen nearly took me away in a van.”
Both Clare and her unreliable new lover Joshua enjoy the company of Mrs. Fox, whom Joshua seems almost to prefer to Clare. But this realistic and decidedly unsentimental novel takes off in an unexpected direction: it is not about happy relationships, and what you think will happen doesn’t.