Today I thought I would review a book that I think is really brilliant- it’s funny, historical and full of interesting women, which are all premises for a great book!
‘The Remarkable Journey of Miss Tranby Quirke’ by Elizabeth Ridley is set around the early 1900s, when the suffragettes are fighting for the vote. The book follows the teacher Miss Tranby Quirke, an often melodramatic narrator, who is also a secret suffragette and works at a college teaching women how to become good wives and mothers, when really she wants to be teaching them about the exciting world of explorers and science.
One day, Tranby meets up with one of her students, Lysette, for a private meeting, and discovers that she is being abused by her husband because he wants a child. This starts a brilliant friendship between the two women, which gradually becomes more, with Tranby battling throughout the book against her lesbian feelings.
Although I loved the romance of the novel, the friendship between the two women was also incredibly special, with their friendship projecting ideas about female solidarity, and showing the closeness of the women, and their willingness to help each other, when the rest of the world is turning a blind eye to Lysette’s domestic abuse.
“‘He’s threatened to lock me up in this house and force me to get with child… He can’t do that. It’s not legal, is it? He’s only trying to threaten me.’
I took her hand gently and debated whether I should tell her the truth. ‘Legally, he is allowed to do that. English law says a husband can sue his wife for restitution of conjugal rights, and then have her imprisoned if she refuses him intercourse.'”
This book is full of great narration, and I loved the way that Tranby was not some big, courageous heroine, but instead she represented the ordinary woman of the time, and it was only when she realised that her friend was being threatened that she emerged as a courageous hero, showing how Ridley created in Tranby a normal woman, who gradually realised her own inner strength and confidence.
This inner journey of Tranby was brilliant to follow, and for me it offered an insight into the views and private feelings of women during the early 1900s. The fact that Tranby only quietly protests, secretly being a member of the suffragette movement, makes her all the more relatable, as not every woman at this time was like figures such as Emmeline Pankhurst, demonstrating the brilliance of Tranby’s character. One of my favourite bits was when Tranby dressed up as a boy to visit Lysette, and this showed the growth in confidence of the protagonist.
Tranby’s prose is also brilliant in the way that she entwines real-life with fantastic stories of explorers and adventures, with this making the story more interesting, and adding a melodramatic sense to Tranby’s narration. I also loved how both the characters in the novel had faults, with Tranby’s shame often causing problems for the relationship between herself and Lysette, and the solidarity of the women against Lysette’s husband was beautifully written.
I thought this book was really interesting in the way that it displayed the inequalities of the early 1900s, and I was incredibly angry about the great inequalities faced by women, with the fact that Lysette is being abused by her husband- and yet only Tranby seems to care- revealing the attitude of many in Britain at this time, and clearly Lysette is even in part blamed for not becoming pregnant, which is the cause of her husband’s fury.
I thought in particular the passage regarding the treatment of women by their husband when they ‘needed’ a child was shocking, and it shows how women from twenty-first century Britain cannot even imagine the inequalities of barely 100 years ago, and I think if many women were taken back in time to this period, they would get quite a shock. What angered me the most was the power Lysette’s husband had over her, and the fact that women at this time could not escape or have any say in their own life.
“He blamed her for not getting pregnant, believed her body was at fault. By marrying Lysette he had purchased the right to the plot between her legs, and he was determined to stake his claim. He would not let that land rest or heal, he would pummel that patch, assault it, strike it, rake it, dig deeper trenches in it until the land itself was barren, and all the earth had been worked into dirt.”
I also loved the ending of the book, and the way that Ridley started the book with a suicide note kept me wondering what would become of the characters throughout the novel, which I think is a great way to start a book and to engage the reader. I’m so glad the ending was happy and tied up the issues in the book, and it filled me with a sense of female empowerment, which is something that I think more books should do! I also loved how the ending revealed the strength of abused women, and the inner strength that every woman contains.
Have you read this book? Do you want to read it now? Are you a fan of historical fiction?
Happy reading x
Currently reading: ‘The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry’ by Gabrielle Zevin
Picture credits here