Jan Struther is best known as the author of the short novel, Mrs Miniver. However, during Virago Reading Week I posted about a fascinating notethat I had found taped inside a copy of Jan Struther’s Try Anything Twice which I acquired from a second hand book stall, and consequently I had to read this one first. I actually finished this book during the reading week, but it’s taken me until now to write my review. I’m getting very behind all of a sudden.
Try Anything Twice is a collection of essays about the trials and tribulations of life as an ‘upper-middle-class, lower-middle-aged Englishwoman‘, as Struther herself puts it. They cover such diverse topics as the pleasures of making lists, the perils of foreign travel and the horrors of arranging for family photographs to be taken. They read very much like the articles in the Style section of the Sunday Times: they focus on aspects of life which may be a bit frivolous but they do so in a way that is intelligent and witty. Unsurprising then, they they were first published in journals such as The Spectator, The New Statesman and Punch in the 1920s and 1930s.
What I enjoyed most about this collection of essays was how well they have aged: clearly the life of the upper-middle-class, lower-middle-aged woman from whose perspective Struther writes with such humour hasn’t changed very much in the intervening eighty years. A lot of the situations are instantly familiar for a modern reader, and Struther is easy to identify with even if the specifics are completely alien because she writes in such a way as to make the concerns that she expresses seem universal. Her essay ‘Cut Out the Stars’ about economising in the face of hard times as only the privileged can, is one that I found particularly apt given the current financial situation in this country.
Although Struther is usually entertaining, in these essays she never shies away from using her humour to impart tough truths and convey harsh opinions. I found ‘The Toys of War’ to be a particularly skillful critique of modern violence and inhumanity through imagining a child playing with toys that accurately emulate warfare. As with all essay collections, I found some better than others, but all the essays (including those which were left out of the Virago edition but can be read here) are definitely worth reading.
Try Anything Twice by Jan Struther. Published by Virago, 1990, pp. 212. Originally published in 1938.