Miss Mapp is the second in E. F. Benson‘s Mapp & Lucia series, satirizing early 20th century provincial English village life. In this volume we meet Elizabeth Mapp, a notable busybody in the town of Tilling, who spends an inordinate amount of time spying on and gossiping about her neighbors, and using the information she acquires to get the better of her fellow villagers and manipulate events to her advantage. Miss Mapp’s house is ideally situated for this purpose; from her windows she can see nearly all comings and goings. She enjoys her reputation as one who knows all, and skillfully covers up when she does not.
As in Queen Lucia, the first book in the series, Miss Mapp does not have an over-arching plot or conflict. Rather, the novel is a collection of amusing, character-driven vignettes taking place over a period of months. Miss Mapp is keenly interested in the activities of two mature single men in the town: Major Flint and Captain Puffin. She has observed they both keep late hours. The men claim to be hard at work on personal projects, but the reader knows better. There’s also a running gag about two women wearing the same dress to a party, and their attempts to rectify the situation. Sometimes Miss Mapp gets the upper hand, but she often makes mistakes — from poorly played bridge hands to more egregious errors in judgement — and must suffer the consequences.
I picked up this book because I was in the mood for something light and fun, and it did not disappoint. E. F. Benson has a way with words that keeps me smiling from beginning to end. I’m looking forward to future volumes in this series, and the inevitable meeting of Miss Mapp and Queen Lucia.