Having very recently read and thoroughly enjoyed Queen Lucia by E F Benson, it was a pretty safe bet that I would be reading the next Mapp and Lucia book in the Wordsworth collection soon after.
In Miss Mapp, we are introduced to a new set of characters who reside in another village – there is no connection (as yet) between Elizabeth Mapp and Mrs (Lucia) Lucas. Miss Mapp lives in Tilling, and like Mrs Lucas in her village of Riseholme she is very much at the centre of life there. Here Miss Mapp sits in her garden room with a notebook at her side keeping tabs on the comings and goings of her neighbours. Where I found Lucia an unlikeable character who I was capable of feeling some sympathy with, I found Miss Mapp to be utterly hateful. Gossipy, sniping and conniving Elizabeth Mapp has set herself up as the moral majority, and yet acts with such blinding selfishness it is breath-taking. Constantly at war with Mrs Godiva Plaistow, Elizabeth is led into to several awkward situations of hilarious confusion and toe curling coincidences which only serve to enrage Miss Mapp further.
“Oh, Major Benjy,” said Elizabeth. ‘You’re all making fun of me and my simple little frock. I’m getting quite shy. Just a bit of old stuff that I had. But so nice of you to like it. I wonder where Diva is. We shall have to scold her for being late. Ah – she shan’t be scolded. Diva, darl-‘
The endearing word froze on Miss Mapp’s lips and she turned deadly white. In the doorway, in equal fury and dismay, stood Diva, dressed in precisely the same staggeringly lovely costume as her hostess. Had Diva and Miss Greele put their heads together too? Had Diva got a bit of old stuff..?
Miss Mapp pulled herself together first and moistened her dry lips.
‘So sweet of you to look in, dear,’ she said ‘Shall we cut?’
Also resident in Tilling is Mrs Susan Poppit – with her MBE and her sables – her bridge parties and her tale of meeting the King. Across the road from Miss Mapp are Major Flint and Captain Puffin two argumentative old soldiers who play golf, and argue continually, and conspire to pull the wool over Miss Mapp’s eyes. Miss Mapp however has for some time set her cap at the poor old Major (who I rather liked – silly old duffer) and really wants to get him away from the bad influence of Captain Puffin.
One of the most popular topics of speculation in Tilling is the sister of Mr Wyse – allegedly a Contessa – who no one quite knows whether to believe in. As the year progresses it seems that the Contessa really is going to put in an appearance. Elizabeth is naturally out to impress – seeing an opportunity to increase her social standing.
Although I enjoyed this novel I did find that I didn’t like it quite as much as Queen Lucia – that could however have been because I was reading it during the first couple of days back at work – after a blissful two week break. I am looking forward to meeting up again with Lucia in the third novel of this collection.