I’m thrilled to be taking part in the British Library Women Writers blog tour again – and here I am with Edith Olivier’s “The Love Child”.

Here’s the blurb:

Upon the death of her mother, Agatha Bodenham finds herself alone for the first time in her life. Solitary and socially awkward by nature, she starts to dream about her imaginary childhood friend – the only friend she ever had. Much to her surprise, Clarissa starts to appear, fleetingly at first, and engage with her, and eventually becomes visible to everyone else. Agatha, a 32-year- old spinster, must explain the child’s ‘sudden’ appearance. In a moment of panic, she pretends that Clarissa is her own daughter, her love child.

Olivier constructs a mother/daughter relationship which is both poignant and playful. As the years roll by and Clarissa grows into a beautiful young woman, Agatha’s love becomes increasingly obsessive as she senses Clarissa slipping away, attracted by new interests and people her own age.

This is such an unusual book – realistic to a point then with a layer of fantasy, which was apparently part of a wider trend at the time it was published in 1927 (think of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s “Lolly Willowes” for example). Agatha reclaims her childhood friend to assuage her loneliness and while Clarissa only appears in her dreams to begin with, she soon manifests very solidly, and starts to exist for other people in Agatha’s quiet household, too. What does she do? Hurry away to the coast to hider her. But when a policeman comes asking questions about official adoptions, she panics.

An interesting view comes from the knowledge of their mistress held by the servants in what is a very intimate relationship. Indeed, towards the end, we start to see things solely from their point of view. By that time, the crisis has passed, Clarissa has grown and developed, done real things rather than played them as make-believe and tried to separate herself from Agatha to an extent. But we saw what happened to Clarissa when Agatha fainted …

The ending is a bit creepy, but it’s also perfect. What an unusual novel and what an interesting one!

The volume comes with the usual context-setting of the decade, in this case the 1920s, an author bio and a Preface, and an Afterword by series consultant Simon Thomas, which looks at “extra women” and their tribulations as the decades wore on. As well, because this is a short novella, we have some excellent essays by Olivier, OK, some straying into visions she’s had of Lyonesse and a ghostly fair at Avebury Stone Circle, but also good ones on being up at Oxford and on forming the Women’s Land Army in 1915. A great all-round package.

Thank you so much to the British Library for sending me this book and others in the series in return for an honest review. You can buy all the British Library Women Writers books (and more) at the British Library Shop (https://shop.bl.uk/). And here’s the rest of the blog tour – do drop by, and how many familiar faces are on there?!

This is also one of my Novellas in November books – the first!