What’s your tipple dear reader? Care to wet your whistle on a pint of deliciously elegant writing that transports you to the very heart of an English pub? A time before the smoking ban and the thick fog was a welcomed regular while the likes of Peggy Lee sang you into a happy drunken sleep. A place that was often considered a second home, a family. Pull up a stool and get this down ya while I tell you a tale about this charming little pub I know. Bottoms up.
Today I am on the blog tour for The Last Landlady An English Memoir (Published 5th September) By Laura Thompson. A big thank you to the publishers Unbound for sending me a copy to review, always appreciated. And also the amazing Anne for the invite, a real credit to this community, thank you!
About The Author
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.
The Last Landlady
Award-winning biographer Laura Thompson pays homage to the English pub through the remarkable story of her grandmother, the first woman in England to be given a publican’s licence in her own name.
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
I always enjoy reading a memoir. There’s something hypnotic that swirls you into another world, slowly pulling back the curtain on life’s façade.
Thompson beautifully writes her experience of watching the magic her grandmother Violet creates, the air of elegance that follows the beloved landlady throughout the pages is bewitching. It’s an immersive experience. You can taste the strong gin and hear the chatter of the locals. Simply gorgeous to read.
I learned a lot from this book about the ins and outs of pub life. I discovered how being a landlady was an art form and no one showcased it better than Violet. Thompson writes her with such respect and admiration. Vi sounded like an extraordinary lady. A rare breed that if you are lucky, you only come across once in a lifetime. The pub was her theatre and she respected it, wearing red lipstick with a cigarette in hand, she was always the shining star.
“ Pubs, to her, were not just a job. They were more like a calling. A way of being. A touchstone, a symbol. There was nothing mystical or delusional about her love of them; she knew perfectly well that they could be tawdry or nasty or criminally dull. But her greatness as a landlady came from the fact that she believed, with a true faith, that a proper pub was a beautiful thing.”
Not only do we get to peek inside Thompson’s memories of pub life but we are also taken on a tour of the social history of pubs. For example their presence in the Dickensian era, how novelists, playwrights and poets used pubs in their work. It’s fascinating to read as I also discovered insider pub knowledge that you would only pick up from experience. Little facts that made you feel more involved and a part of the pub legacy.
“Drink was the enabler, the encourager, the softener. It was the elixir that allowed the pub to work it’s spell: to become a place where humanity could expand, where everything mattered less and more, where the outside world was kept at bay, where life was bold and safe and affirmed. And fun.”
It is truly a depressing sight every time I see an abandoned pub on a corner or one being used as a Tescos. They carry such history within their walls and endless stories of wild night lock-ins. It was the pub that made the memories, not the drink. They made life worth living and Thompson shows this effectively in her writing with stories she overheard as a child or witnessed firsthand. She engages your senses as you keep asking the barmaid to stick another half in your glass. It may sound strange to say it dear reader but I felt a sense of calm. That this was a cosy, warm, loving place that made you feel welcomed with good people and endless banter. It was a place you wanted to be.
“The pub is — or was — a delicate reflection of our national character: the stoical humour, the craving for clannishness, the relish for a downbeat kind of glamour, the jokey attitude to sin, the sentimentality, the rebellious obeisance and the fleeting aggression.”
I admire Vi, she had to fight for her right to ownership of a pub. No one really fights anymore, society has gotten lazy and we hold out our hands expecting everything for free. In days past if you wanted something, you had to go out and fight tooth and nail for your dreams. Violet transformed a building that was falling apart and long forgotten into a thriving business. A place where people felt that warm glow that one often feels when they fall in love. Thompson captures this enchanting past world with such passion and truth. You feel intoxicated and smile aimlessly as her words remind you how the simple pleasures in life are what makes it worth living.
I give The Last Landlady By Laura Thompson a Four out of Five paw rating.
Thompson serves up a mouthwatering memoir that takes you back to a time when pubs beat strong and free at the heart of the community. It leaves your thirst fully quenched and wishing for the days before public houses became a dying breed. Let’s raise a glass to all those that have passed and help create the great legacy that is the English pub. Cheers.
Don’t forget to follow the rest of the blog tour, dates below, enjoy!
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