I’m not sure why I wasn’t drawn to The Miseducation of Evie Epworth earlier. I’m a sucker for a weird book title. Think, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Not to mention almost everything by Swedish writer Fredrik Backman.
One of my friends loved this debut novel by Matson Taylor but it still took me months to get to it and I am so thankful I did. In fact, although I was keen for something light… a good psychological thriller about some murderous psychopath; from the opening lines of this novel I was transported into Evie’s world. It’s written in first person from 16 year old Evie’s point of view and almost akin to stream-of-consciousness thinking. Taylor gives Evie a really delightful voice and this is a quirky and often-funny read. At the same time however, there are moments of poignancy, some of which come as a result of life experience and realising things young Evie does not.The Miseducation of Evie Epworth
by Matson Taylor
Published by Simon and Schuster
Source: Simon & Schuster
Genres: General Fiction, Literary Fiction, Humour
Sixteen year-old Evie Epworth stands on the cusp of womanhood. But what kind of a woman will she become?
The fastest milk bottle-delivery girl in East Yorkshire, Evie is tall as a tree and hot as the desert sand. She dreams of an independent life lived under the bright lights of London (or Leeds). The two posters of Adam Faith on her bedroom wall (‘brooding Adam’ and ‘sophisticated Adam’) offer wise counsel about a future beyond rural East Yorkshire. Her role models are Charlotte Bronte, Shirley MacLaine and the Queen. But, before she can decide on a career, she must first deal with the malign presence of her future step-mother, the manipulative and money-grubbing Christine.
If Evie can rescue her bereaved father, Arthur, from Christine’s pink and over-perfumed clutches, and save the farmhouse from being sold off then maybe she can move on with her own life and finally work out exactly who it is she is meant to be.
One of my favourite books of 2019 was Allegra in Three Parts and it came to mind as I was reading this. Perhaps because both are from the point of view of a smart and sassy young person grappling with the grief of those around them. Evie didn’t know her mother, but grows up in the shadow of that loss.
My mother. A beautiful affirmation. An idea I can’t quite remember. p 11
A rush of light suddenly bounces around the room. I love it when people say my mother’s name. It’s like she’s living again, if only for a second. I let the golden flare of her name burst over me. p 49
Taylor’s writing and Evie’s voice had me hooked from this book’s opening.
I am the wind. I skeet across tarmac and whoosh over dale. Birds skate along my amorphous limbs and the sun backs down on my back. I am a sirocco, hot as the desert sand. I fly. I loop. I race.
I’m also Evie, old as the hills (16 ½), as tall as a tree (5ft 11), and as wise as time (perhaps). A dog-loving, celery-hating, never annoying, always enjoying, at times corduroying, (brackets-deploying), daughter of Arthur, and the fastest girl with a milk bottle in East Yorkshire. p 1
We then learn the reason she’s flying on her milk-delivery round is because she’s borrowed her father’s pride and joy, his MG. Which she’s not supposed to drive. And the reason she’s borrowed it is because she and her friend celebrated their O levels by getting drunk on a mix of spirits Evie pilfered from her father’s drinks cabinet the night before and she woke late and hungover for her milk-delivery.
Of course it doesn’t end well….
I am Evie, sixteen and a half, as wise as a tree, as tall as time, the fastest milk bottle in East Yorkshire, hurtling towards Womanhood. p 7
The theme of ‘becoming a Woman’ is one Evie revisits throughout the novel. And I guess, in many ways this is a coming-of-age novel. One that takes place over a few weeks (or perhaps months) of Evie’s life. At a pivotal point in that life.
I found myself intrigued by Evie’s obsession about the kind of Woman she’d become. On observing two older women – one lean, the other overweight – she wonders “How many different versions of Woman can there be? (And, even more importantly, which version will I be?)” p 29
Is it a decision we can or do make, I wondered. Do we decide who we are or who we become, or is our destiny predetermined? How can we influence that?
Of course, unlike me, Evie defines Womanhood narrowly based on her own experience. Will she become a farmer’s wife as desired by her father, a hairdresser (Christine’s idea), will she continue at school and become a teacher (a friend’s suggestion) or will she become an Independent Woman like her neighbour, Mrs Scott-Pym’s daughter?
At the time we meet her Evie’s world is changing quickly and she takes solace in the company of her neighbour, who knew her mother. Mrs Scott-Pym is a smart (though slightly eccentric) woman who can see before Evie, where things are heading between her father and their housekeeper.
This will certainly be one of my favourite books of the year. It occurs to me I read so many books about devious characters I’m almost agog when people turn out to be kind and generous. That’s certainly the case with Mrs Scott-Pym and her daughter who are there for Evie when she most needs guidance and friendship.
Of course Evie is a delight and it’s almost impossible to separate her character from her voice and Taylor’s writing. He really nails the prose and it feels natural and very much like inner thoughts of a teenager. I loved Evie’s lists and the constant use of parentheses (brackets) for example. As if it’s important that Evie be as specific as possible in relaying facts and information.
This is an addictive and beguiling read and I became really invested in this story and often indignant on Evie’s behalf.
I’m not sure how much more I can rave about this book other than to comment on Taylor’s use of humour and irony throughout. Of course (on a more serious note) there is an underlying theme about loss and grief, about the way we deal with both and the destructiveness of trying to bury them.
The Miseducation of Evie Epworth by Matson Taylor was published in Australia by Simon & Schuster and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.