The sharp eyed urban warriors among you will have spotted in my Pages a couple of sets of guidance notes on second-hand books to avoid. These are generic, and tend not to name specific authors or novels. They merely describe genres you may want to avoid.
Someone gave me a book on Saturday, and although it was of a genre I’d never heard of before, I decided to give it a whirl. The sleeve notes told me all I needed to know. It’s a book that is …heartbreakingly poignant and joltingly realistic, a book that fans of misery lit won’t want to miss…
Misery lit. That was a new one on me and to be honest the first five words of hyperbolic blurb did put me off. So instead of reading it I’ve decided to write some misery lit. Here’s a synopsis for submission. Should be a cinch.
South London, 1956. Foundling brought up in an orphanage. All the other girls are nasty thieving cows. Nobody wants to adopt her, despite her clear vulnerability and elfin features. Leaves at 16, gets a crap job in a laundry and a crap room in a hostel. Finds a bedsit and a job in a caff. Domineering proprietress, cheery Londoners as staff, henpecked husband of owner, devilishly handsome only son. Clientele consists of more cheery Londoners (costermongers to be accurate) who look after their own people and their own manor.
Ugly but very nice and kind customer falls for her, but she has eyes for the devilishly handsome son, who just happens to frequent prostitutes with the sole aim of beating them up, so cowed is he by his oppressive mother. He’s a petty criminal and a workshy layabout to boot. She gets engaged to Mr Nice, who was born out of wedlock and brought up by his feisty Gran, who strikes up a deep friendship with the forlorn waif of a girl. She has terrible guilt feelings about chucking out her daughter, later killed in an air raid, when she found out that the fruit of her loins was pregnant.. Meanwhile, Mousegirl is seduced by the spoiled son of the Amazon, and guess what? She ends up pregnant.
In the meantime there’s been a paedophile living in the room upstairs from her in her cheap and not very cheerful lodgings. She exposes him for what he is. That’s just by the by. Her landlord in said lodgings is part of the criminal gang the son is a member of, too.
The son tells his matriarch that the mousy girl hurled herself at him. Everyone believes him, including the Gran, who withdraws her friendship from the girl, who is devastated by this. Her friends believe she’s in the wrong, and reject her out of hand. Mr Nice believes it too, but he forgives her anyway. Did I mention he’s an amateur boxer who helps neighbourhood tearaways get back on the straight and narrow? No, I didn’t. Well he is.
The mother decides they must get married. In the runup to the nuptials, the evil son forces himself on her while she’s pregnant with his child. Girl begins to have some misgivings.
Son and Miss Mousy, who just happens to be called Pearl Button (!) get married, and the mother makes her life hell. Browbeaten dad doesn’t help. Girl can now no longer afford to do what she loves doing most, which is taking art classes so she can learn to paint and draw. This love was fostered in her by the Art teacher at the orphanage.
Son finds himself overcome by urges and beats and rapes a barmaid from a pub he’s been casing for a big heist. Since that idea fails to have the legs it needs to get him financially independent, he attacks and half kills a jeweller, and gets 15 years in jail.
Girl meanwhile has moved out of her in-laws’ flat and is living with a wizened old woman who runs a second-hand clothing shop, and who also happens to be a psychic, and she sees a vision of a woman seeing the girl’s photograph in the newspaper. The wizened psychic also ends up giving a home to the local woman with Down’s syndrome, whose mother has to go into hospital with dementia. Oh, the girl with Down’s syndrome has second sight too.
I’ll spare you too much more, but batty matriarch decides to kidnap her grandson, and is foiled in this attempt by the second-sighted Down’s syndrome girl having a vision, and by Mr Nice, who catches the villainess at the station making her escape. When caught she loses her sanity, what with her own feckless son being banged up and losing the grandson she dotes on and is determined to bring up her way, and ends up being committed to a mental home.
Meanwhile a mysterious stranger has turned up, and it’s the woman the psychic has seen in a vision. It’s none other than the Art teacher from the orphanage, and guess what? She’s Pearl’s! mother. Unbelievable eh? She was told that Pearl had been stillborn after she got pregnant by the gardener (rich parents apparently), and there’s a subplot where the outraged father and the villainous head of the orphanage contrive to keep the girl isolated and unadopted, to make her life doubly miserable. The Art teacher/mother tragically suffers from a major heart condition, but has been treated and is on the mend, and wants Pearl and her newborn to go and live with her so they can get to know each other. Pearl agrees, and Mr Nice says he’ll wait for her for as long as it takes.
Somewhere I need to work in a subplot about another waitress in the caff stealing tips and skimming the till, but so far it sounds like a runner, don’t you think?
I think I may have a go at this. There’s good money to be made.
Oh damn. I just realised. This one’s been used before. I fibbed to you, and I did read the book. It’s called Nobody’s Girl, and it’s by a Kitty Neale. I’d give it a bodyswerve if I were you. It’ll make you miserable all right.