Book Review: Old Baggage by Lissa Evans (2/5)

11 Aug

I’m not sure if life’s getting me down or if I’ve had a bad run of books but I’m feeling a reading rut at the moment. This book didn’t help. I usually fly through audio and counted on flying through this one to finish in a week. I only just made it, finishing Sunday before my Monday book club meeting. And it was a bit more of a struggle than I would like.

Cover image via Goodreads

Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

Summary from Amazon:

Riffling through a cupboard, Matilda Simpkin comes across a small wooden club—an old possession that she hasn’t seen for more than a decade. Immediately, memories come flooding back to Mattie—memories of a thrilling past, which only further serve to remind her of her chafingly uneventful present. During the Women’s Suffrage Campaign, she was a militant who was jailed five times and never missed an opportunity to return to the fray. Now in middle age, the closest she gets to the excitement of her old life is the occasional lecture on the legacy of the militant movement.

After running into an old suffragette comrade who has committed herself to the wave of Fascism, Mattie realizes there is a new cause she needs to fight for and turns her focus to a new generation of women. Thus the Amazons are formed, a group created to give girls a place to not only exercise their bodies but their minds, and ignite in young women a much-needed interest in the world around them. But when a new girl joins the group, sending Mattie’s past crashing into her present, every principle Mattie has ever stood for is threatened.

This book fell very flat for me. I didn’t connect with Mattie from the beginning and the Flea’s description had me off base the entire time so I failed to enjoy the characters from the go. I liked Ida and her character was strong but that wasn’t enough to carry the book for me. The main plot, with a battle between Mattie’s Amazons and Jacko’s Empire Youth League, seemed silly to me. It was a proxy war between two women who never had their own words. I felt the ending was very rushed after such a detailed start and it fell flat.

The characters seemed well described, I just didn’t like them. Ines was very hard to like and I think that’s what made the whole book feel forced. Mattie’s efforts to get Ines engaged in the world around her were a lot to stomach and seeing how much she hurt Ida in the process was hard. It made me lose respect for Mattie. After looking out for Ida so much, it seemed hard to believe she’d cast her aside so quickly.

Ida was my favorite character. She worked hard and was very smart. When the book started, I didn’t realize how prophetic it was that she was fired for correcting a client. She learned fast and proves how capable she is through her education and commitment to the Amazons. You want good things for her and when she falls on hard times, you want to sympathize with her. I thought she carried the story.

The Amazons reminded me of the Girl Scouts of America so I was engaged in the idea of the group Mattie was putting together. I enjoyed the Girl Scouts. My brother was a Boy Scout and I liked that I got to camp and do archery like him. It was a fun and memorable part of my childhood. I understood the attraction for the girls but I don’t understand the comparison to the Empire Youth League. The two groups seemed to have very different aims and I can’t imagine they’d attract people who were looking for the same things.

Lissa Evans
Image via the NY Times

The field day was a great scene. I thought the scavenger hunt was well done and the tension Evans created in it was good. I hated how the whole thing went down, but I think that was the point. It was supposed to upset me and it clearly upset so many of the characters.

The ending bothered me a lot. It felt very rushed. Most of the book covered about a year, but the final two chapters covered five. It seemed like a bit too much to me with a lot of time crammed into the book. It felt like Evans wanted to end the book with the women’s vote, but it was a bit contrived at the same time. The ending just didn’t seem to fit the story to me.

The audiobook was narrated by Jane Copeland. I thought she gave a good voice for Mattie, but she didn’t blow me away. Her reading of the other characters were very similar, except for Ines. It was a bit bland and I wondered if it contributed to how I felt about the book as a whole. It felt like she was trying to affect a period-specific way of speaking which I’m not convinced was accurate.

Mattie feels like she’s getting old. She’s no longer the militant suffragette she was and is unsure how to keep up the vigor she once felt for the movement. She thinks the Amazons will make her proud and help her continue to feel like she’s making progress toward a better future for women. Her failure there shuts her down and it’s not until years later that she’s revitalized. We all feel like we’re getting older and losing our energy. I feel like I’ve lost energy during COVID. It’s a natural process and we can only fight it so much as Mattie eventually learns.

Writer’s Takeaway: My biggest complaint about this book is the beginning. Introducing Mattie and the Flea during a lecture was not engaging. I especially did not like meeting the Flea like this. The way she was described made me picture her as old and frail instead of young and healthy. I couldn’t picture her and it was a struggle for me the entire book. The ending wasn’t for me either and disliking those parts made it hard to enjoy the middle.
(Note: It was pointed out to me after this review was posted that we meet Mattie and the Flea before the lecture scene, which starts around 24 pages into the book. I was working off of memory and apologize for my mistake.)

Overall, not one I enjoyed. Two out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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5 Responses to “Book Review: Old Baggage by Lissa Evans (2/5)”

  1. Davida Chazan August 12, 2020 at 7:10 AM #

    Aw… sorry you didn’t care for this one. I enjoyed it a great deal.


    • Sam August 12, 2020 at 8:53 AM #

      I was the only one in my book club that didn’t care for it. I think I’m in the minority on this one. Happy reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lissa Evans August 13, 2020 at 6:57 AM #

    I’m a bit puzzled by your comment that Mattie and The Flea are introduced during a lecture; – the lecture starts 24 pages from the beginning of the book, and before then there are scenes between the two of them at home, and a further one with The Flea at her work-place.


    • Sam August 13, 2020 at 7:08 AM #

      Hi, Lissa. Thanks so much for visiting my blog and commenting.
      When I finished the book, that was the earliest scene that I remembered. Mattie’s descriptions of the militant movement stuck in my mind. The scene gave a strong impression of their relationship and the power dynamic they shared.
      When my book club met on Monday, I was the only person didn’t love the book and Mattie’s character. I’ll be posting about that next week. Happy reading.



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