Laura Thompson won the Somerset Maugham award with her first book, The Dogs, and wrote two books about horse racing while living in Newmarket. Her biographical study of Nancy Mitford, Life in a Cold Climate, appeared in 2003 (re-issued 2015) and was followed by a major biography of Agatha Christie. A Different Class of Murder: The Story of Lord Lucan was published in 2014, and 2015’s Take Six Girls: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters was recently sold to television. She lives in Richmond.
Laura Thompson’s grandmother Violet was one of the great landladies. Born in a London pub, she became the first woman to be given a publican’s licence in her own name and, just as pubs defined her life, she seemed in many ways to embody their essence.
Laura spent part of her childhood in Violet’s Home Counties establishment, mesmerised by her gift for cultivating the mix of cosiness and glamour that defined the pub’s atmosphere, making it a unique reflection of the national character. Her memories of this time are just as intoxicating: beer and ash on the carpets in the morning, the deepening rhythms of mirth at night, the magical brightness of glass behind the bar…
Through them Laura traces the story of the English pub, asking why it has occupied such a treasured position in our culture. But even Violet, as she grew older, recognised that places like hers were a dying breed, and Laura also considers the precarious future they face.
Part memoir, part social history, part elegy, The Last Landlady pays tribute to an extraordinary woman and the world she epitomised.
This is a very personal story for the author, because it’s the memoir of her grandmother. A grande dame of the English pub. It describes the way Violet fights for her independence in the industry. Not exactly an easy task when you’re a woman trying to succeed and make your mark in a male dominated business.
The book is full of anecdotes and charming stories about Violet and her punters. It’s a little bit like everyone knows Peggy Mitchell (Eastenders) as the epitome of pub landlady. Brash, loud and absolutely in control of everyone in the pub – no matter how drunk or belligerent. It’s as British as it gets.
Thompson veers off quite often into opinions on today’s society and in the era of her grandmother and long before her time. The culture of drink and drunkenness, especially as it pertains to women. How the pub and pub culture as we know it came to be.
It’s not told in a narrative per se or in chronological order, but rather in a series memories, reflections and collection of impressions. Tales of eccentric patrons and amusing situations sometimes make light of how difficult it must have been at times for a woman in Violet’s position.
At times it felt as if the world of Violet was being infused by the thoughts and opinions of Laura, which then made it less of Violet’s memoir and more Laura’s memoir. To be fair the blurb describes it as part memoir, part social history and part elegy.
It’s a memoir, a collection of memories, thoughts and impressions of a strong woman in a male dominated world.