Before starting this book I was unsure. It certainly wasn’t on my list of ‘must reads’. I’m a fan of pre 1930s literature or yarns of daring adventure. I suspected ‘Diary of an Ordinary Woman’ to be some ghastly kitchen sink drama. I was wrong.
Certainly the first few diary entries don’t quite ring true. Millicent seems a very fictional thirteen year old to me and I was looking for faults to dislike. However I quickly appreciated the subtle way the author hangs back from telling everything, revealing some incidents, glossing over others, always leaving the reader wanting more.
It would be easy to mistake this book for a real diary, and not recognise it as an unusual work of fiction. In my own family are stories of young men joining up to fight in wars, with equally tragic results, I think George’s story is very real. The account of life in the First World War hooked me and from then on I couldn’t put the book down.
I feel for this woman. How she wants more from life but is challenged at every turn, though really she has far more opportunities than many of her time, male or female. She annoys me. I am irritated by her lack of staying power and even slightly jealous of her job on the bohemian, artsy magazine. I scoffed when she fails to realise that, when a young man says he admires her ‘critical faculties’, he really wants to get his hands on something else. I could understand her rage and frustration, trapped in that dreadful Brighton school with a head teacher she scorns and detests and all the time wanting something better. I wanted to find out more about her life. I began to really care about what happened next.
My heart goes out to her, with a life so full of duty and even love, but so devoid of true friendship. The lack of anyone close to confide in goes well with the conceit of a confessional diary.
Was she an extraordinary woman or just an ordinary woman living through extraordinary times? I haven’t made up my mind yet, I’m still thinking about it, and to my mind that’s the mark of an extraordinary book.