Eva Rice’s period novels are kind of akin to curling up on a rainy day with hot, buttery crumpets and tea. There’s a warmth and nostalgia to them, like you’re settling in for an hour or two of catching up with old friends.
The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is one of my all-time favourite books, one that I’ve read too many times to count. So when Quercus contacted me and asked if I’d like to review The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp I jumped at the chance. To my delight, the book arrived alongside a handwritten note by the author and a CD featuring the hit release single of the main character, with lyrics written by a certain Inigo Wallace (fans of The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets will be pleased to discover that yes, familiar faces do pop up in this book).
Country girl Tara is whisked off to ’60s London to become a star; there she is dressed, she is shown off at Chelsea parties, photographed by the best. She meets songwriters, singers, designers, and records her song. And she falls in love – with two men. Behind the buzz and excitement of her success, the bitterness between her elder sister Lucy and her friend Matilda haunts Tara. Their past friendship is broken and among the secrets and the strangeness of both their marriages, the past keeps on reappearing.
Rice’s skills as an author lie not only in her ability to bring the 1960’s so vividly to life, but in the way she writes realistic, rounded and compelling characters. Tara isn’t as engaging a heroine as Penelope, but I liked the narrative choice to let the reader see the world through her eyes. Tara feels like a young woman I could have known growing up. I probably was her at some point growing up. Sheltered and naïve, I think Tara is a protagonist a lot of readers will identify with. That feeling of being slightly awkward in your own skin, unsure of yourself yet anxious to please, wanting to stand out, but not quite having the confidence, experience or poise to pull it off. Yet she’s never a weak or insipid character. Rice really captures that feeling of being seventeen with the whole world at your fingertips.
The heart of the novel is really Tara’s relationship with her sister. Lucy’s story forms some of the most fascinating parts of the book, from her turbulent friendship with childhood friend Matilda to her passionate romance and troubled marriage with Raoul. Tara idolizes both Raoul and her sister’s marriage, but as she is introduced to a world of famous singers, musicians, photographers and models, her understanding of the world and the people in it is tested. Lucy is a far more stubborn, fiery counterpart to Tara and I enjoyed watching both of them struggle with their choices, find their own identities and grow throughout the book.
Though you could easily read The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp without having picked up The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, there are old friends who make brief appearances, while a grown up Inigo plays an important part in Tara’s singing career. As someone who adored these characters the first time round it’s always a thrill to see where they’ve ended up since we last left them. *Spoiler* For those who enjoy a bit of romance in their books, the scenes between Tara and Inigo are beautifully understated though I found they lacked the chemistry of Penelope and Harry. *End of spoiler*
Set eight years after The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, this feels like quite a different book, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s more mature, certainly denser and perhaps a smidgen over-long. It has quite a sedate beginning, but looking back I appreciated the depth of character background Rice takes the time to build up. Some readers might be a little thrown that a good first third of the novel is about Tara’s childhood and despite the synopsis, I wouldn’t say the focus of the book is really Tara’s singing career.
‘Small country girl makes it big’ may sound a little cliché but Rice handles it in her own unique style. The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp is a coming-of-age story that has a richness and character to it and in large part this is due to the amount of detail that has gone into this book. As with her previous novel, Rice really captures the era, the people and the movements of the time and several recognisable figures grace the pages, including Brian Jones, Nikolaus Pevsner and David Bailey. *Spoiler* Not to mention a big nod to the Rolling Stones whose first gig at the Marquee club in 1962 is a scene in the novel. *End of spoiler*
Rice gives us a host of messy characters we can relate to and whips up the feeling and energy of the time. Fans of the 60’s or those who remember it will undoubtedly get an even greater satisfaction out of this one.
‘Incredible,’ I said. ‘I have a rare feeling that I’m going to be able to tell my grandchildren that once upon a time, I was in the right place at the right time.’
‘The right place at the right time,’ mused Inigo. ‘Don’t think I’ve been there since I accidentally walked in on Charlotte Ferris in her underwear in the Blue Room at Milton Magna, Christmas 1954.’
~ page 456
My initial thoughts were that it doesn’t quite stand up to its predecessor, and while it’s true I didn’t fall in love with the characters as I did with Charlotte, Penelope, Harry and Aunt Clare, the more I think about it, the more I found I liked it. Definitely worth a second or third reading to soak up all the details, perhaps this time with my extremely high expectations put to one side.
*Many thanks to Rik at Quercus Books and Eva Rice for the opportunity to review The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp*