Spectator book of the year: “An eclectic mix of social history and elegy, ironic comedy and indelible Englishness. It is about the pub as theatre.”
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 would like to thank the author, publisher and blog tour organiser for the ARC in return for an honest review.
I love history with a passion, especially social history that takes us away from the battlefields, into the lives of ordinary yet extraordinary people and so I was delighted to get to chance to read Laura Thompson’s biography of her grandmother. It is a warm-hearted piece of writing, gentle to read, but also illuminating in the way it takes us back to a world many won’t recognise, but which shaped all of our todays.
It is a remarkable highbred of social history, memoir and as it states in the blurb, a fitting tribute not just to times gone by, but an exceptional women. The grand stages of history, give us one off examples of women leaders, but behind the scenes are even greater finds, women like Violet, the first women to be given a publicans licence in her own name. What I found so fascinating about this book, was how it brought Violet to life, almost as if she stood behind my shoulder, reading the book with me, so vibrant was the picture painted by her granddaughter. Here was a women, not defined by her gender, but emboldened by it, she was a Queen within her own domain and I think rather magnificent. None of the hardened, threatening masculinity Thatcher had to present to be accepted by men. Violet didn’t need a man, but she was intelligent enough to understand that within her domain men were needed, they just weren’t in charge.
The other side of this wonderful book was its focus on the history of the pub itself. The writer gives us a fascinating insight to a its development, how it acted as a social hub in it’s heyday and its almost invariable decline as the world around it moved on. I’m of a generation who’s father often went to the pub on the way home from work, just for a pint, or when on holiday, only being able to sit outside in the bear garden, so this book brought back many memories for me as a reader. It also made me release that the traditional pub still has a place to play in our communities, but that for young people like my niece, it’s time has passed and quite rightly. For her, the world has opened up and she would never feel comfortable in that environment; but still it was a part of my childhood and I’m grateful for Laura Thompson for writing this moving, honest and fitting tribute not only to the pub, but to her quite remarkable grandmother. Women like Violet, even if they were not aware, were blazing a trial for equality for women like me, my gorgeous niece and god daughters.
I really can’t recommend this book enough, it is a gem of a biography of a woman who really deserves to be remembered. Raise a drink to Violet, her world and all the other significant women lost to history.
About the author
Laura Thompson attended stage school and at the age of sixteen won an exhibition to read English at Oxford. Her first book, THE DOGS: A PERSONAL HISTORY OF GREYHOUND RACING, won the Somerset Maugham Award. In her twenties she wrote extensively about sport and published two books about horse racing: QUEST FOR GREATNESS, the story of her favourite racehorse Lammtarra, and NEWMARKET, a history of the town where she lived for some years.
In 2003 she wrote LIFE IN A COLD CLIMATE, a biography of Nancy Mitford, reissued by Head of Zeus in early 2015. This was followed by the first major biography of Agatha Christie for more than twenty years, which is published in the US by Pegasus in 2018. A DIFFERENT CLASS OF MURDER: THE STORY OF LORD LUCAN is also reissued in 2018, in a new edition containing previously excised information.
THE SIX, which tells the story of the Mitford sisters, became a New York Times best seller in October 2016.
Among various TV appearances she has presented a BBC4 film BACK TO THE BARRE, about her return to ballet in adulthood. She recently appeared in UKTV/ Netflix’s A TALE OF TWO SISTERS, about the relationship between Diana and Jessica Mitford, and this year is filming a documentary about the Orient Express.
She is a contributing editor to Town and Country magazine and writes for Harper’s Bazaar.
Along with the reissues, two new books will be published in 2018: REX V EDITH THOMPSON (Head of Zeus and Pegasus), a re-examination of the famous 1922 Thompson-Bywaters murder case, and THE LAST LANDLADY (Unbound), a memoir of her publican grandmother.