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Even though I usually can’t stand a chunkster, and this book weighs in at 579 pages, I loved every moment wallowing in Eva Rice’s The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp (2013). And those moments were spread out over the course of six months or so, because it was my guilty pleasure read during the final stages of my DPhil. And, in case I forgot to mention, it’s 579 pages long.
This isn’t actually Rice’s second novel, but you might be forgiven for thinking so, because she first became well known for her wonderful 2005 novel The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, which borrowed the loveliest elements of Nancy Mitford and Stella Gibbons along with Rice’s own trademark charm, warmth, and wit to create a joyous ride through early twentieth-century upper-middle-class life.
The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp (great title) moves things on a bit – but only a bit, as we’re in the 1960s. Tara Jupp, a seventeen year old vicar’s daughter, has a large number of siblings and enjoys her upbringing in the West Country, sneaking rides of local horses, admiring the beautiful stately home nearby, and always thinking of the time she sang to mysterious Inigo in the kitchen where her aunt worked… Eventually, she is thrown into the swinging world of the 1960s London music scene, recording a successful song under the pseudonym Cherry Merrywell, and meeting dizzyingly bohemian people at every corner.
It’s impossible to give a summary of the plot without it sounding like the worst kind of popstar-makes-a-movie fodder. You know the ones – where Britney Spears et al decide to turn their hand to the silver screen in as thinly-veiled a portrait of themselves as possible. Which makes it all the more impressive (and brave, on Rice’s part) that The Interpretation of Tara Jupp is fresh and lively and vigorously enjoyable. It’s not all froth and bubbles – there are plenty of tragedies and misunderstandings along the way, but somehow these add to the cosiness of the novel, rather than the reverse. As the title suggests, there is a bit of misinterpretation, often by Tara herself, of herself, but it’s the variety of emotional tussle that stays firmly on the page.
Rice’s writing is the sort that has qualities which are impossible to convey. She is not a fine stylist – I don’t think she is trying to be – and so quoting any single passage is rather pointless. Rather, there is a cumulative brilliance to her novel. Scene after scene, emotion after emotion, are built up so that we have a composite picture of beautiful houses, witty conversationalists, nerves, sass, and nostalgia. It’s heady, but it works. I read somewhere that her books are like soaking in a warm bath. Well, I hate baths, but I can see what they mean – Rice follows in the line of great warm-bath authors like Mitford, Gibbons, and others who can present unlikely happenings with plausible, self-aware heroines. It’s delicious.
Oh, and for fans of The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets – a few of your favourite characters make an appearance in The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp…
The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp by Eva Rice. (London, Heron Books, 2013). ISBN 9781780878546 (trade paperback) 579pp.
Simon Thomas blogs at Stuck-in-a-Book and invites you to be jolly nice in the comments and recommend books along a similar line.