Friday, March 18, 2022

Last Year When I Was Young by Monica Dickens

Wow, this cover is TERRIBLE. 

I'm not going to spend too much time on this post, because to be perfectly honest, I don't think anyone will read it -- it's about a book from the 1970s that no one has heard of, by an author that hardly anyone reads anymore (despite her famous name) and it has one of the WORST COVERS OF ALL TIME. Seriously, who looked at that cover and thought, "This book will sell!" Did her editors secretly hate her? It is a mystery.

Anyway. I'm sure that I would never have picked up this book in a store, but this copy somehow ended up with the donations at my library about ten years ago.  As I was sorting through them I recognized Monica Dickens' name, and kept it aside for myself (these were books donated for the Friends of the Library sale, and employees got first crack at them. All books were $1 and I did pay for this). There was another Monica Dickens as well called One of the Family, whose plot I have instantly forgotten. 

I finally got around to reading this last week -- I added it to my TBR Pile Challenge list so that I would be inspired to read it. As it is just over 200 pages long and I'm way behind on my reading quota for the year, I thought I'd give it a try.

Published in 1974, Last Year When I Was Young is the story of Richard, a twentysomething private nurse who is working at the home of an elderly man who is fading fast. The family are all pretty awful except for a granddaughter named Fanny who turns up from Australia, where she'd been on an assignment for the BBC. Richard had a past love that ended tragically several years before and I knew instantly that Fanny was the new love interest. I predicted that the elderly client would pass away and leave all his money to Fanny, and she and Richard would end up together. I was wrong.

This cover is not much better

I expected the whole story to be about this particular assignment for Richard, but it ends rather abruptly and he moves on to other jobs. But over the course of a couple of years, he and Fanny drift in and out of each other's lives as Richard takes on private nursing assignments. Some are sad, some are amusing, but overall this book is just sort of melancholy, but it didn't end at all how I was expecting. In retrospect there were hints all along that made perfect sense as I read the final paragraphs. 

Like I was hoping, it was a pretty quick read, and I think I read it all one day (we had some unexpected bad weather and I was stuck inside the whole weekend). It was a fairly good read but I don't suppose this will be reprinted anytime soon -- it's very middlebrow but not really interesting enough to get picked up by Persephone or any of the other indie publishers who are reprinting unappreciated fiction right now. I don't read that many books from the 1970s and parts of it are very much of its time, i.e. a couple of pretty cringe-worthy racial slurs. 

An OK read but I suspect it will end up in the Little Free Library down the street. But it's one more book knocked off my TBR pile. 

12 comments:

  1. I read Monica Dickens's memoirs first, and then started looking for her novels. I find the novels a bit uneven, and I've given away the ones I know I won't read again. If a copy of this turned up it Half Price Books, I might be curious enough to try it. I don't think I've ever read a book from that period with a male nurse as a main character.

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    1. I really enjoyed One Pair of Hands, then moved on to One Pair of Feet, which I didn't enjoy quite as much. I think there's a third, My Turn to Make the Tea, which I haven't found yet. I've read a few of her fiction novels and so far my favorite was Mariana, a Persephone reprint. Which do you recommend?

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  2. At least you got another book from your TBR pile read. (And you're right, I don't think I'll ever read this one!)

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    1. Yes! Always happy to have one more book off the pile.

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  3. My TBR shelves are so vast I will not be reading this novel. That first cover was awful, I agree.

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    1. I feel your pain. Every year I swear I will ONLY read books off my own shelves. HAHAHAHAHAHA

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  4. I think her book, The House at World's End, was in my school library so that is the only one I have read. This does sound forgettable. I must admit I thought male nurses were more recent than the 70s. I remember reading articles about there being a stigma.

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    1. I hadn't hear of The House at World's End but it reminds me of The Boxcar Children or The Children Who Lived in a Barn, both of which I loved. As a kid it's so exciting to imagine being on your own. Why is it so much less fun as an adult?

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    2. Because as an adult one has to worry about meals and mending the roof and doing laundry without anyone to coax into doing it or sharing the worries!

      Most of those jolly books are about intrepid siblings or resourceful friends but there is a book I loved as a child that was translated from French into Nobody's Girl. It was about an orphan (like all my favorites) whose mother (on her deathbed) makes Perrine promise to go find the grandfather who had disowned her dead father and make him love her without divulging her identity! She is completely alone, more so than even Sara Crews, and forced to be very resourceful. An old fashioned but wonderful book!

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  5. It's good that you are crossing the books off your TBR file because depending on how many TBR books one has there is probably a hidden gem there.

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  6. Back when I used to get A Common Reader book catalog, I toyed with reading something by Monica Dickens because the catalog blurbs for her books were so inviting. I never did get around to reading her, but I am still curious, sort of. This particular book sounds a bit dated, and the cover is truly dreadful. No "pick me up and buy me" there!

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  7. I read Monica Dickens' book titled "Last Year When I Was Young" in the late 70's. I enjoyed it, it is a decent reading, down to Earth, shown dedication and positive emotions. I love the title so much, that when I am tired or down, I like to quote the title with a sight. It causes some grins and smiles, considering that I am in my late seventies and even years prior to "last year" I passed the time when I could be called Young. 😀

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