|From Ray Russell's Supernatural Fiction Database|
I discovered this book late last year a few months just after its reissue in paperback from Bloomsbury. I had owned the book for several years and had just decided to find out what it held in store. I must have been picking up on whatever was in the air, for right after I finished reading the book I went looking for info on Frank Baker of whom I knew nothing. Google searches began returning review after review on Miss Hargreaves from blogs all over the US and UK. Apparently the entire world rediscovered this book and its colorful characters at the same time I did. As I often say, "Isn't life filled with amazing coincidences?"
I did find out a few things about Baker – the most surprising being that he has a website devoted to his life and work. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised. These days the internet seems to have a website for everything under the sun. Why not a site for Frank Baker? I'm glad I stumbled across it for I got a bibliography of his work and learned he wrote several enticing books including a dark fantasy that in part inspired Hitchcock's The Birds. And I bet you thought it was solely based on Daphne Du Maurier's novella. Well, I did. And of course now I have a small pile of Frank Baker books that eagerly await reading. But onto Miss Hargreaves…
Norman Huntley and Henry are the best of friends. But they have a habit of indulging in a fantasy game a bit too much. While on vacation in Ireland and touring a dull and gloomy cathedral the two of them invent an elderly poetess friend they dub Miss Hargreaves in order to entertain themselves and befuddle the sexton who is acting as their tour guide. Later they continue to invent and elaborate on the life of Constance Hargreaves who writes doggerel verse, plays the harp, owns a dog named Sarah and a cockatoo named after a character in The Beggar's Opera. Continuing their charade they write a letter to her and send it off to her home (also invented). When they return home Norman is shocked to learn that he has received a telegram from Miss Hargreaves accepting his invitation to visit and that she will be expecting him to greet her at the train station. He and Henry go to the station and are horrified when Miss Hargreaves shows up with cockatoo and dog in tow. Her harp has been previously sent on to Norman's home.
|Young Frank Baker|
Norman's father Cornelius, a scatterbrained bookseller who has a similar habit of embroidering the truth (if not completely fabricating it), warns Norman of the dangers of his wild imagination. He also reminds his son that "Creative thought creates" but Norman turns it around and keeps as his dangerous mantra "Destructive thought destroys." With each attempt at making Miss Hargreaves go away Norman only succeeds in making matters worse. She finds ways to transform and transmogrify herself in order to stay put. Amid all the comedy there are faint echoes of Victor Frankenstein in all of this as Norman's creation gradually begins to turn on him.
This is really rather a remarkable book that has much to say about friendship, father and son relations, and the ultimate power of the imagination. The numerous blog reviews I have read have similar heartfelt, personal reactions and a number of profound insights. Great writing often resonates with human emotion. The impressions sent out through the blogosphere support my belief that Miss Hargreaves is not only noteworthy in the supernatural fantasy genre but also a masterwork in English literature.
"Miss Hargreaves--" I murmured. "Miss Hargreaves--?"
I leant over the rail and looked into the darkness of the Irish Sea. It was night. The lights of our boat were the only lights upon the black water. No answer came from the sea as I mumured that name. And yet, it seemed to me that very faintly in the December air, in the wind, I could hear the sighing of my own name. "Norman-- Norman-- Norman--"