I’ve wickedly promoted this one to the top of the pile because so many people seem to have read it recently, or rather so many people I know, because my friends’ Very Small Book Group read it for their January read. Heaven-Ali reviewed it the other week. So i grabbed it from my birthday pile to read OUT OF ORDER (shock). It was a January read for me, too, but scheduling has got a bit complicated!

Jenni Murray – “A History of Britain in 21 Women”

(21 January 2018, from Sian)

This is subtitled “A Personal Selection”, which of course neatly allows Murray to sidestep the inevitable criticism over who she chooses to include and who she leaves out of her 21 chapters; indeed, she does mention other options she had (Shirley Williams, Florence Nightingale) and explains why she didn’t choose them in some of the pieces. She also often mentions her personal connections to the women, from seeing the sculpture of Boadicea as a child to interviewing Nancy Astor, Barbara Castle and Margaret Thatcher; this and the fairly informal tone of the book do make it warm and approachable, as if she is indeed telling you about some favourite figures.

Unfortunately, the informal tone of the book is carried over into the feature which has shocked a few readers I know (and was literally underlined in this copy, which made me smile): Murray fairly often references works of fiction when telling the stories of her subjects – a novel I’ve never heard of about Boadicea, fairly famously, a Philippa Gregory novel in the chapter on Elizabeth I, and a drama documentary about Mrs Thatcher. This just seems odd to me, as there has been plenty of well-researched non-fiction written about these people. There are also no references or bibliography at all, but acknowledgements given to people who helped her keep the facts straight. But, after all, its a “personal selection”.

The Fanny Burney, again fairly notoriously, includes vivid primary source accounts of an operation, but this is well-signposted, with an exhortation to “[b]e brave and read on” (I didn’t). It is good in general and I learned about Mary Somerville (her of the college) and at last worked out that Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Millicent Garrett Fawcett were sisters, which had always somewhat eluded me. A decent introductory read, but further reading could easily have been enabled with better referencing.

Next up is a book called “Kickboxing Geishas” about women in modern Japan, which was passed to me with slightly mixed reviews …