Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Thank God for Lillian Boxfish

The last new novel I tried to read was Lincoln In The Bardo, the Booker Prize winner. They say it's a masterpiece. I couldn't tell you. I didn't get past page fifty. And I speak as someone who's interested in Lincoln and rarely gives up on books. God knows what everybody else made of it. Since then I've just been reading non-fiction.

I picked up Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk by Kathleen Rooney from the table near the door at Daunts in Marleybone High Street. It was the week before Christmas and I was looking for stocking-fillers for my wife. I read the blurb and thought it was worth a go.

My wife loved it. I loved it too. Lillian Boxfish is a woman in her eighties who refuses to leave New York. During the Jazz Age she became the highest-paid woman in advertising for composing the clever light verse on the newspaper and magazine advertisements for Macy's.

Even in her eighties she believes in walking everywhere. Solvitur Ambulando is one of her mottoes. "It is solved by walking." Which explains why on New Year's Eve 1984 she walks all the way from her place in Murray Hill to Delmonico's down in the Financial District and then on to a young people's party in the yet to be gentrified Meat Packing District.

On the way she encounters New Yorkers who all enquire what an old lady is doing out on the streets alone at night. In her mind she recapitulates her life and career. And that really is the sum total of what the book's about. Lillian Boxfish believes it's her duty to be bright and entertaining without taking up too much of people's time. The book's the same.

It doesn't play brain-scrambling games with the structure of The Novel so it's never going to win the Booker Prize. It is however readable. I got up early this morning to finish it. If being readable sounds like damning with faint praise I don't mean it to.


  1. You did better than me with Lincoln in the bardo I read the whole thing and wished I'd given up at page 50

  2. Thought I'd recommend this book to my wife after your post David. Turns out she'd already read with her book club. Loved it!

  3. Loved this! Perfectly true, once again you puncture the edifice of received critical opinion. I too was nearly fooled by Lincoln in the Bardo, all the book of the year critics fawned over it. Fortunately I actually bothered to read a little in Waterstone's! Enough said. At the time I was looking for a book club choice for a group my wife is in full of very well read high school teachers. I think I will go for Lillian Boxfish too.
    Love your good sense. The same has often applied to music reviews as well I am afraid. My collection has a fair few ridiculously over hyped examples!

  4. My publishers tell me that the biggest day for selling books to men is Fathers Day. That's a marketing challenge, of course, because most of those books are actually bought by the women in their lives. La Boxfish is a further twist on that. It's clearly the book you buy for your wife and then read yourself.

  5. If I remember correctly, the last book you quit was the Donna Tartt epic (which I'd read and loved). Lincoln On... is up next. There's a pattern, etc