Book Club

The ladies of Upper Westing met for book club every week, alternating hostess duties. This week it was May Tolman’s turn and she had provided an excellent tea. The table was laden with fresh cucumber sandwiches, hot currant scones with lashings of creamy butter and tart jam, and delicate finger biscuits dipped in cinnamon. There were also several teas, infusions and home-made lemonade. The ladies were now engaged in animated social chit-chat, the real reason for book club’s popularity.

When they had dispensed with Sarah Hillin’s youngest and his lack of discipline (“just needs a good whipping”) and Tory Manley’s frequent visits to Dr Barham (“obviously a budding romance”), conversation turned to the newest resident of Upper Westing.

“John told me he’s a retired colonel. Rich as sin and nobody knows where the money came from.”

“Molly down at the grocers says he’s had builders at the old Foster place for days, tearing out all those beautiful Victorian fittings.”

“My Tom knows one of the builders. He says there’s some pretty strange things in that house – like books in German and foreign coins.”

“I heard he was the only survivor of his regiment. They all died in suspicious circumstances and he only reappeared after the war. Its all rumour of course, probably false, but where there’s smoke….”


May smiled to herself as she cleaned up. It had begun. The next bit was out of her hands, but she knew her friends well. Soon, the titbits she had passed on would spread throughout the village. Another few hints in the right ears and he would never be accepted here. He would always be an outsider. That would teach him to slight her, calling her a busybody when she was only trying to be a good neighbour.

14 thoughts on “Book Club”

  1. Enjoyed the set up of the scene and the ageless humanity of the gossip – also enjoyed trying to separate the likely truth from the unlikely gossip and the intentional slander.

    ‘tearing out the victoria fittings’ – great line, classic much like “Its all rumour of course, probably false, but where there’s smoke….” – another everyday conversational untruth.

    Her motives at the end don’t seem to justify her nastiness but I suppose the point is that under the polite exterior she is a scheming bitch willing to harm a stranger over a small slight.

    I enjoyed the intent shown it ‘she knew her friends well’ which implies a deeply self-aware level of scheming which adds a lot to the character.

    1. Thanks :-) I had a lot of fun playing with certain kinds of stereotypes in this piece. Glad they worked for you.

      About the motives – I’ve read quite a lot of books about small town gossip and bitchiness which have this kind of scheming nasty (usually older) woman (always women interestingly) who has very little else to interest her, so a small, possibly imagined slight becomes a great insult in her head.

  2. This is about a bookclub getting together and talking about the various residents of Upper Westing. May begins to spread rumours about their newest resident in an attempt to make his life unpleasant. The reason for this is that he had called her a busybody, and she wants revenge for the slight.

    I was amused that her revenge is essentially taking the form of being a “busybody”. Her self-righteous maliciousness is quite excellent.

    > There were also several teas, infusions and home-made lemonade.
    I loved this sentence, mostly because of the word “infusions”. I think it adds a lot to the description in a “Oh, I wouldn’t have thought of that” kind of way.

    I was wondering if the two bits of dialogue beginning “My Tom knows…” and “I heard he was…” are spoken by the same person (I presume May). They both seem to by implicating the new resident in the same way.

    Also, I just googled to see if Upper Westing is a real place, and the top hit was this micfic site 😉

    1. Glad you enjoyed the maliciousness. I enjoyed writing it, and playing with the busybody-ness of the character :-) I also really enjoyed writing about the tea – its the bit that got the rest flowing for me oddly enough (I was channeling Enid Blyton for that bit – my memory of her descriptions of packed lunches for the Famous 5 still makes my mouth water).

      About the two bits of dialogue, I didn’t really assign characters to any except the last, which was May’s. I wanted a vibe that no-one would really remember later who had said what exactly.

      That’s funny and odd-feeling about the Upper Westing google result. Cool :-)

  3. Thank you, this is perfectly pitched – the vindictive tones, the small-scale evil plotting – this is the kind of woman who’d have been an evil overlord in different circumstances!

    I like the delicate upper class tones, the subtleness of the rumours, the cunning negation (it’s just a rumour, nothing to it) that makes the gossip even more appealing. Very well caught.

    I agree that while the slight was, well, slight, given May’s small world it looks very big to her.

    1. Thank you for the comments. Glad you enjoyed it. As I said above, I really enjoyed writing about the vindictive May and her nasty rumour-mill – she could so have been an evil overlord! :-)

  4. I love the way so many of your pieces have a slightly period feel – this one says Miss Marple or Ngaio Marsh to me, do you enjoy that sort of vintage of reading? or am I projecting my own reading tastes :>?

    The detail here was lovely, it created the setting in a precise, slightly fussy way deeply appropriate to the small-minded concerns of the book club ladies. The relish in the sensual description of the tea also very nicely foreshadows the relish with which they bite into the gossip. This was a lovely vignette, thank you!

    1. Thank you! I do in fact thoroughly enjoy this sort of reading. I especially love and regularly devour Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer for light escapist reading. I was completely thinking of Miss Marple in this piece, and am very happy that you saw it :-)

      I hadn’t heard of Ngaio Marsh before. I googled her and found on wikipedia about the four Queens of Crime (also Dorothy Sayers and Marjory Allingham), of whom I have only read Christie. Thanks very much for the name – I’m excited about the slew of authors opened up for me :-)

      1. I am the happy possessor of the entire Ngaio Marsh collection, which are arranged in my detective fiction shelves in strict chronological order. Also, all of Sayers and almost all of Allingham, ditto, except I don’t think I’ve arranged them chronologically. Please consider yourself to have a standing invitation to come over and raid for reading matter. If you haven’t yet met Lord Peter Wimsey or Albert Campion, you darned well should, and I have a soft spot for Roderick Alleyn and his artist wife. Some of the Ngaio Marsh country house ones are basically LARPs.

        1. Yes please, yes, yes :-) I’m going away for a couple of weeks, but will definitely take you up on the invitation to raid your bookshelves when I get back. And just in time for some xmas reading too. Thanks.

  5. The first paragraph is a great scene setter, with some lovely touches, particularly “lashings of creamy butter and tart jam.” I definitely got a Miss Marpley period feeling from it.

    I really dug the “When they had dispensed” paragraph with the little snippest of conversation. Great gossip stylings, very classic.

    The menace of the last paragraph is very creepy, and well written.
    Sounds like lots of people I have met (and then avoided!).

    The Book Club as Social Weapon is a well documented real world phenomenon (eek!), and you’ve done an ace job of painting a picture of it here. Really enjoyed this!

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