The Chaplet of Pearls by Harriet Waugh
The eponymous Chaplet of Pearls is a literary appreciation society devoted to the Victorian lady novelist Charlotte M Yonge, whose improving works (including the seminal Abbeychurch; or Self-Control and Self-Conceit) preached a life of exalted self-abnegation. The "Pearls" themselves, a dwindling group of well-to-do elderly ladies whose idea of self-denial is shop-bought smoked salmon, are none the less staunchly supportive of their heroine's moral strictures. So when Hilary Greep, a feminist critic, proposes Yonge as the subject of a revisionist biography heaving with incest and lesbianism, the Pearls are roused to revenge.
"Hilary Greep has developed out of completely different culture. She could come from Mars," explains Katharine, the murderous Pearl-in-Chief. "Although only around fifty years divide us from her, the cultural gulf is greater than that which divides us from the Ancient Greeks."
This, rather than her literary proclivities, is the real reason why Hilary Greep must die. As their legs and wits begin to fail them, the Pearls find themselves besieged by moral Goths with slippery subjective truths threatening to undermine the certainties of their upbringing.
Waugh is excellent on the creeping menace of old age: "Katharine invariably thought that things she could not find had been stolen but never mentioned the possibility as she suspected it might be a sign of incipient madness in herself." As funerals clutter up their diaries, the Pearls develop a desperado mentality which, the author argues, fits their station: "Nobody thinks of the old as reckless, but they should. Like the young, but for opposite reasons, they have nothing to lose."
Waugh moves too often into manifesto mode for The Chaplet of Pearls to be classed as a comedy. She hovers between the sitcom of Tom Sharpe and the subtler social observations of her family tradition. The reader is never quite sure whether to laugh or to nod sagely. Laughing sagely is not an option.
Bloomsbury, pounds 14.99
Life & Style blogs
How old is your heart? US research finds three out of four people have hearts five years older than their actual age
iPhone 6s Plus photos: leaks show Force Touch display, subtly altered size
Huawei Mate S and Huawei Watch: new products take on iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch
Why do we have eyebrows? The social significance of our silent communicators
WhatsApp: How to discover who your best friends are - using a hidden tool within the application
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
- 1 Huawei Mate S and Huawei Watch: new products take on iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch
- 2 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
- 3 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 4 Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
- 5 German police forced to ask public to stop bringing donations for refugees arriving by train
£27000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to business growth, this is...
£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...
£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion, this care company base...
£21000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...