Author Mavis Cheek © 2011
Mail & Guardian March 9-15 2007
'Hen-lit comes home to roost.'
Nicole Johnson speaks to Mavis Cheek about her road to wisdom.
Mavis Cheek reviews:
Mavis Cheek seems to have cracked the conundrum
of how to write decent novels with popular appeal'
Wednesday, 25 May 2011
The Lovers of Pound Hill
By Mavis Cheek
‘The Lovers Of Pound Hill’ is a very clever, very entertaining story with several sub-plots and an amazing array of characters.
It centres around how the village of Lufferton Boney is shaken up and turned on its head by the visit of young archaeologist Molly Bonner who has returned to follow up on work begun by her grandfather many years before.
The story bursts with quirky characters, hidden motives and mysteries. It is fast moving, intriguing and with many plot lines and issues that aren’t resolved right until the very end.
The story is a colourful patch work formed of episodes told through the eyes of a number of different characters. Many of the characters are loveable, some less so, but all are very human: apart from Montmorency who’s a cat.
I loved this book. It is full of fun and humour but has an underlying message that is ultimately emotional and very moving. It follows the themes of love and how it endures, and how the past can impact on the future. It also encompasses religion, superstition, history and even poetry in a fabulously rich narrative.
If you want a book that will grip you, hook you into a complex mystery and ultimately leave you smiling, I strongly recommend this one.
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Summary: A new book by Mavis Cheek is always an event and this one is no exception. Anyone who can handle a priapic gnome and make it genuinely witty rather than smutty deserves a medal. Highly recommended.
Date: May 2011
The Lovers of Pound Hill. Publisher: Hutchinson
Archaeologist Molly Bonner had something about her. She definitely wasn't dressed for the country when she arrived in Lufferton Boney and she'd captured the heart of one young man before she'd even walked down the street. She captured another when she offered money to work on the Gnome of Pound Hill, but Miles Whittington was ruled by his wallet and he was keen to make money out of the Gnome. The Gnome, you see, was what might euphemistically be called 'well endowed' and Miles had visions of charging visitors to make use of the, er, fertility rites. One thing was certain – none of the villagers of Lufferton Boney would be the same by the time that Molly Bonner (not only an archaeologist but also the archaeologist's granddaughter) had finished her work.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
Before we go any further – a health and safety warning: do no read this book in public if you are at all worried about laughing out loud or the occasional snort which brings tears to the eyes and prevents you speaking intelligibly for some time. It's going to happen and you really are best in the privacy of your own space. And before you wonder, it's not the gnome's appendage which causes the problem, but the wonderful mixture of people who live in the village. Many books are advertised as being funny but few live up to the hype, but The Lovers of Pound Hill is genuinely witty and very, very clever. It's satire at its best.
I'm not going to tell you a lot more about the story, because it's Mavis Cheek's version you want to read, not my ham-fisted summary. The plot has been crafted and it will grab you from the first page. There's a lot of research behind the story but there's very little in the way of exposition on subjects which most people will know little about and at the end you'll find that it's been intellectually satisfying as well as a good read.
You'll love the people too. In fact – if you live in a village you'll know most of them, from the upper-class lady who drinks just a little too much, the wife of the professional man who's bored and under-employed and the son who is well-meaning but not very bright – and just a little too inclined to fall in love. Borrow the book by all means but you'll get value out of buying it because it's one to go back to and reread.
BOOK REVIEWS (.pdf's): Truth to Tell (2010)
from The Independent & The Independent on Sunday
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Yesterday's Houses by Mavis Cheek
A (bath)room of one's own
By Lesley McDowell
Sunday, 26 February 2006
If Mavis Cheek were to write her autobiography, you would expect it to look very like this latest, perfectly judged, comic novel. Or perhaps that's just a measure of how relentlessly convincing her fiction is, in spite of the dry humour at life's disappointments. Because beneath that comic surface pulse real anger and frustration that can never be never fully voiced, as Cheek's heroine Marianne Flowers knows. In her world, it is always better to stay silent and simply "Rise Above".
Alan Bennett excepted, Cheek is really the best portrayer of lower middle-class life writing today. The moment we meet Marianne Flowers, her place in the world is nailed for us: she is 17, it's the Swinging Sixties, and she is about to enter a party in a house that belongs "to what her mother would call A Better Class of Person". From this moment on, Marianne's life will be a constant battle between a post-war, lower middle-class suburban world dominated by her mother's injunctions to "Rise Above" because "Needs Must", and a new world of bohemian ways and existentialist philosophy.
That battle is mirrored in Marianne's marriage to Charles, a boy she meets at that fateful party: "so funny, so clever. Somehow he seemed to fit in this elegant house." Cheek enjoys poking fun at Charles, in a series of horribly realistic scenes, as she tracks their appalling marriage from a first grimy bed-sit through their succession of homes. Everything about him is exposed to ridicule: his bizarre sexual habits (spanking Marianne with a hairbrush while she's suspended from the ceiling), his compulsive cheating, his control-freakery, his put-downs of Marianne's limited education. We see catastrophic dinner-parties with Marianne's supercilious sister-in-law, Beryl, spectacularly botched central-heating systems because Charles refuses to think professionals can do it better than he can, the betrayal of close friends like Willa, with whom Charles sleeps and with whom Marianne is then expected to socialise. All of this is all hugely recognisable in its mundane yet monstrous reflection of that very bourgeois institution, marriage.
But Cheek is no anarchist; she doesn't really want to demolish that institution. Like the best satirists, she relies on the laughter of recognition but she knows too well that it's not a laughter that advocates change. For change to happen, the laughing has to stop. And so it is only once Marianne has left Charles, moved on to Norman with whom she has a daughter, has then left Norman and found herself as a writer, that the humour dries up and Cheek can take her heroine seriously. We see Marianne move from one dilapidated house to another, causing many beautifully funny moments as she fantasises hopelessly about bathrooms - perfect, clean little spaces where she can relax and escape her tiresome husbands, bathrooms that she never gets because they're not considered important enough by said husbands, just as she is not considered important enough. But it's an angry little fantasy too, a cruel perversion of Woolf's plea that every woman needs a room of her own.
Marianne's only ally is Jean, Charles's mother-in-law, who encourages her to read Germaine Greer and get an education. When Marilyn French wanted to expose the limits of women's lives, women who married too young, she wrote an angry expose called The Women's Room. Cheek has similar targets, and wants to chart a similar period in women's lives: the apparent "freedom" of the 1960s that didn't quite reach all women, and the subsequent decades that kept them trapped. Cheek may do it with more humour than French but don't be fooled: the anger is still there.
Review for Amenable Women
MY PROFILE From The Times May 1, 2008
Amenable Women by Mavis Cheek
Reviewed by Natalie Sandison
From within the circle gathered to inter the body of her late husband steps Flora Chapman - retired schoolteacher, occasional seamstress; a colourless, frumpy woman hitherto mashed into the background by a vainglorious husband and his adoring daughter, Hilary.
In Amenable Women Mavis Cheek bestows on her heroine the cool, ironic stance for which she is known. We settle into the company of this new widow, enjoying her sharp, detached observations while also wondering, given the circumstances, how on earth she will manage. But manage she does - brilliantly. Flora revives the Tudor history of her village, a project that diverts as it also heals, bringing a deeply satisfying retribution as her own narrative becomes woven with that of the similarly besmirched Anne of Cleves.