Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Upstairs at the Party by Linda Grant - Part 1

published 2014



[Adele is a teenager in Liverpool in the 1960s and 70s]

I grew up to be the leader of a circle of schoolgirls, bolshy, sophisticated, ambitious, supercilious, a little bit cynical already, who smoked and wore plum-coloured lipstick and very short skirts.

We read everything that was new and particularly anything that was forbidden. Bought every Stones and Beatles record from NEMS on the day of release, quoted Dylan lyrics at each other, queued to buy mini-skirts at Chelsea Girl, sent away for a ten-shilling feather boa from Honey magazine, could recite by heart ‘The Love Song of 

J Alfred Prufrock.’ Ran through Sefton Park to the Palm House and kissed boys on the swings. Drank half-pints of Double Diamond at the Phil and O’Connors Tavern, wrote poetry, stayed up on school nights to watch Late Night Line-Up. Could tell the difference between Peter Brook and Peter Hall. Went on the Pill to prepare ourselves for the future amazements of living.


observations: I cannot give an objective view of this just-published book – I absolutely loved it, I wolfed it down, but that might be because the author comes from the same place as I did, we are roughly contemporary, and we experienced the 1970s (and later) in a very similar way. The book is more than a list of the clothes and the attitudes and the sexlives of 1970s students, but my goodness she does that well. Mind you, her heroine’s Saturday job was at Lee’s on the perfume counter – much posher than me in the BHS Restaurant. (NEMS record shop was Brian Epstein’s family business, and you could nip out to it in your lunch-hour from your Saturday job. The Phil was The Philharmonic pub across from the concert hall.)

Of course, I would hate not to be giving Linda Grant credit, because this is a novel, a work of fiction, but the life she gives her heroine Adele is real and convincing. She tells of going away to a modern university, of being left to get on with it and hoping for the best. The young women and men she meets are again all too recognizable – Evie and Stevie, Bobby and Gillian. The people who stuck with their left-wing views and the ones who moved on as soon as they left Uni. Their views and their clothes and their experiments with sex are just right. But it’s not just reminiscences and deft portrayals: there is a good strong thought-provoking plot, and a slow unwinding of what was actually happening, and which bits Adele didn’t understand at the time. A really great, intricate book which I hope will be in line for the major literary prizes this year.

The  young women in the top picture are from a Biba catalogue of the era – a bit more upmarket than the magazine Honey and the boutique chain Chelsea Girl. The second picture is a Biba customer. See also Twiggy’s memoirs on the blog for more about 60s/70s clothes. 

Linda Grant's I Murdered My Library is here on the blog.


19 comments:

  1. Glad you loved it Moira, but not something I'm going to seek out. You have made me think again about IMML though.
    My oldest sister had a Saturday job at BHS, I believe she worked on the cheese counter! I haven't just made that up have I - tell me BHS sold cheese and other foodstuffs back in the 70's...... when did they stop?

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    1. I think they did, yes - not in the one I worked in but others. I think they were quite good employers - comparing my lot with friends in other Saturday jobs, everything was done very properly there.

      IMML is very short, doesn't cost much, and will resonate with anyone who has too many books. So you should read it....

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    2. Another £1 spent from my pocket money!

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  2. Moira - I love it when a novel captures an era I know well in a place I know well. You feel a real connection to the book. And it's good to know too that the plot is a solid one too with authentic characters. I can just pictures those young teens...

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    1. I love her female characters: they are varied and real. And they are not all like the heroine - you get a good idea of her from the excerpt above, but she writes well about quite different women as well.

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  3. Kinda sounds like Helen Walsh's 'Brass'

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    1. Set at an earlier time, and not nearly so rude! Perhaps better prospects for the women in this one...

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  4. Anna Devereux Barker2 July 2014 at 21:18

    BHS is Bradford had a cheese counter - I got lost there when I was about 4 and my mum had gone in to buy cheese. I wandered off and they didn't find me for about half an hour
    Ah plum coloured lipstick! My friends big sisters wore it, I thought it was the height of sophistication

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    1. Oh well done Anna, thanks for the historical retail detail. Mary Quant cosmetics did very nice plum-coloured lipsticks.

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  5. Interesting. My college days were somewhat similar and somewhat different, having gone to a private, small, eccentric New England college where mayhem reigned. It's a wonder anyone got an education at all! It was the 1960s -- lots going on that was positive, some not so good. It was a very lively place.

    I don't think young women wore much make-up at my college. A few did, but that was rare. As I said, it was the 1960s and make-up was not popular then.

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    1. When I was at college, I think the womendivided into those who were strongly against make-up, for principled reasons, and those who wore it anyway. I was just never any good at applying it...

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  6. I did not wear make-up in my college days, but did later and still do. I maintain my right to do so and my women's rights activist spirit isn't dampened a bit by doing so!

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    1. I think make-up is now and always should have been a matter of personal preference.

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  7. The make-up discussion is interesting. Being from the South, in my teens and early twenties, I did not know any girls or women who were not wearing make-up. Even when I stopped wearing make-up later, I would wear it when I visited Alabama. (not now, though)

    Glen saw that Col was reading I Murdered My Library, so he wanted to get it, so I am sure we will both be reading it soon. I had planned to get it but forgotten ...

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    1. This is a simplistic question, Tracy, but one thing I hate about makeup is wearing it in hot weather (not much of an issue in the UK of course), when it feels uncomfortable. No feeling like that in the South?
      I hope you enjoy I Murdered My Library - short and funny, and resonating with those of us with too many books.

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    2. You know, I don't remember heat / hot weather (and there is plenty of it there) having any affect on my wearing make-up. I must not have worn much make-up because my (first) husband said I looked just as good without it. But for sure, I never went without. Very muggy there, and when I go back now I cannot believe I could stand it. In the summer the heat and the mugginess actually push in on you, and I never noticed that before I left.

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    3. I've only had short visits to the South, but I did find those conditions hard to deal with - I'm not good in heat.

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  8. I'll try to read IMMLbut I'll have to look for it.

    In the summer in NY it can be tough to wear make-up in the heat, but I do it lightly enough so that it is not a bother and nothing streaks. No mascara in August!

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    1. IMML is only available as a short ebook I think. It is a good read. Useful make-up tip there....

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