Friday, 13 December 2019

Forgotten Book - Appointment with Yesterday

Celia Fremlin was a remarkable woman, and a remarkable writer. I had the pleasure to meet her briefly in the early 1990s, at a CWA conference, although I didn't have the chance to talk to her at great length. I've admired her writing for a long time, though I haven't read all her books by any means, and I've only recently caught up with her 1972 mystery Appointment with Yesterday.

This is a really terrific novel. It's a story of domestic suspense, but it's the wittiest example of that sub-genre that I can recall having read. There are many acute insights and touches of humour, which relieve a rather dark storyline, and make the whole book entertaining as well as perceptive. It's at least as good as her excellent debut, The Hours Before Dawn, which won an Edgar.

This is the story of a woman who calls herself Milly Barnes. We know that isn't her real name, and we also know that she is on the run, fleeing from something terrible. What has she done, why is she so afraid? Milly can be exasperating, and can seem weak and rather stupid, but gradually Fremlin reveals the circumstances that have shaped her personality, and our sympathy for her grows.

Milly runs off to a seaside town where she takes a number of part-time jobs as a cleaner. Fremlin herself had worked in domestic service, and her presentation of the relations between employer and employed is as enjoyable as it is plausible. Meanwhile, the tension mounts, since someone is trying to find Milly. Who can it be, and what do they want? I can strongly recommend this excellent novel. It deserves to be much better-known.

3 comments:

J F Norris said...

This is a fabulous book! It was the first Fremlin novel I ever read. I remember coming across her stories in EQMM decades ago and enjoying her Rendell-like characters and plots. For some reason I never tried her novels until I started up the blog. When I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts back in September for an autumn getaway I stopped in a bookstore and found two of her books in new Dover paperbacks. I bought both. There will be some Fremlin reviews to share with everyone soon.

Martin Edwards said...

Excellent, John. I look forward to them. I also hope to review another - Possession - before long.

Stark House said...

Fremlin is an excellent suspense writer. Her characterizations are always spot-on, the endings always so satisfying--whether devastating or not. It's a pity that Dover has only a handful of her books in print over here in the States. THE SPIDER-ORCHID is one of my personal favorites. Hopefully, Martin, either you or John will be reviewing that one in the near future.