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.
Shortlisted for Harper’s Bazaar Book of the Year 2019
A Guardian, Spectator and Mail on Sunday Book of the Year 2018
‘A lyrical portrait of a fast-vanishing way of life . . . Thompson is a terrific writer’ New Statesman
I knew that I was going to absolutely love this book. Memoir is one of my favourite genres and Laura Thompson is definitely a writer at the top of her game and I could not put this book down once I’d started it last Sunday. Thanks so much to Anne Cater who always picks such great books for me and hosts such fabulous tours. I’ve discovered so many amazing books through blogging and this is right up there amongst my favourites.
It was a ‘read right through until the end’ moment and I just loved having the time to plunge right in and savour this fabulous read. It was the perfect book to take my mind off the hustle and bustle of 21st-century work and stress and travel back into a time gone by and read about this amazing life. This really is a book with something for everyone. It’s a window into another era, recreated with charm, intelligence and a real sense of recording these truths for posterity. I could almost smell the beer and hear the characters as I turned the pages.
Laura Tompson certainly has the spirit of the landlady in her veins as this book sings to you as you read and brings Violet to life for you as her world is lovingly recreated in these pages. Many of these characters’ personalities are brought vividly to life as we immerse ourselves in their rapidly changing lives and realise that having ‘regulars’ like these with such huge personalities and quirks is something that really does seem to be ansign of a bygone age. Laura Thompson’s writing is as memorable as the characters she’s describing and many of her lines describing her grandmother stick in the mind as you read how she “learned to phrase her personality, as a singer phrases a lyric; she knew the power of withholding, and of brief conspiratorial bursts of charm”
I even went off looking for redoubtable pub landladies after reading the book as I loved the little snippets of stories and characters that I came across as I was reading about Violet. I loved this photo I found of Mrs Clarise Corbett posing proudly behind her bar and I raised a smile remembering Violet charmingly accepting drinks from her customers then tip it on the floor from her high stool behind the bar…
This book has some absolutely killer lines – and that’s one of the things that made it such a perfect Sunday afternoon read. The fact that Laura emphasises things for us by making us see the ordinary afresh is one of the things that I loved most about this book – “A proper pub is where one lives in the present tense… a place in which drink is central but not all.’’ is also a sharp and incisive comment on the place of the pub in Britain’s social history – from gin palaces to coaching inns across our cultural story. I think that so many people would enjoy this sweeping rumination on class, what makes people tick, leisure time and women who choose not to conform to the boundaries society has placed on them over the years.
If you love a book where you get caught up in both the writing and the subject matter you’ll love The Last Landlady. It’s warm and reflective in equal measure and really brings this ‘casual empress’ and mistress of all she surveys vividly to live through its pages in all her leopard-print glory. This is definitely a memoir where you end up wishing you’d met Violet for yourself and witnessing this force of nature in action. But it also works as a rich and satisfying slice of social history too, giving you an insight into the upheavals that have gone on in the way that we spend our leisure time and the changing nature of hostelries where nowadays mason jars and artfully distressed leather sofas have replaced the spit and sawdust past of the great British pub.
I ended up re-reading sections to myself for its observational exactitude as I found myself caught up in this vividly described world and going off to search for other characters like violet who sadly, it seems, are a dying breed. Non-fiction is definitely drawing me in this autumn and I’ll hopefully be sharing more of the memorable characters and places that I’ve ‘met’ through these reads as the month progresses
I totally recommend The Last landlady and think you should definitely buy yourself a copy Laura Thompson is one of my favourite writers and if you haven’t read her Rex v Edith Thomson then you should also treat yourself to that as it’s one of my non-fiction reads of the decade.
Writer On The Shelf
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 bestseller 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.