Patrick McGrath showed up on the programme for the 2018 Festival of Writing and Ideas at Borris talking madness and menace with historian Roy Foster. While I didn’t make it to the session entitled, ‘Gothic or What?’, I made a mental note to check out McGrath’s book, The Wardrobe Mistress. This week, I finally got around to reading it.
Set in post-war Britain in 1947, The Wardrobe Mistress opens with the funeral of actor Charles Grice. The mourners include Grice’s wife, Joan, who lends McGrath’s book its title, and their daughter, Vera.
Joan and Vera are the main characters in this novel along with actor Frank Stone, who who attracts Joan’s attention when he takes over her husband’s Malvolio character.
For the first 100 pages or so of this novel, I found it hard to connect with the characters and plot. There’s a point where Frank Stone, “suddenly glimpsed that who he was — his very self — was as nothing.” That line seemed to me to sum up the opacity of the characters (at least as I experienced them) in the early part of the novel. But the pace does pick up and I found the second half of the book a faster and more interesting read.
The Wardrobe Mistress is topical at the moment in that Mosley’s fascist followers feature in the story line. I liked the historical references and also the way that McGrath handles the Grice’s daughter Vera’s role in The Duchess of Malfi. But would I recommend The Wardrobe Mistress? I’m not sure. Probably ‘yes’ for anyone interested in the rise of right wing thinking after the war or for anyone interested in theatre or even for those who like a ghost story.
It’s published by Penguin. I read a copy from my local public library. (Thank you Wicklow County Council Library Service).