Book Review: The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp by Eva Rice 

By  Turn The Page

Warning: Two small spoil­ers ahead.

Eva Rice’s period nov­els are kind of akin to curl­ing up on a rainy day with hot, but­tery crum­pets and tea. There’s a warmth and nos­tal­gia to them, like you’re set­tling in for an hour or two of catch­ing up with old friends.

The Lost Art of Keep­ing Secrets is one of my favourite all-time books, one that I’ve read too many times to count. So when Quer­cus con­tacted me and asked if I’d like to review The Mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Tara Jupp I jumped at the chance. To my delight, the book arrived along­side a hand­writ­ten note by the author and a CD fea­tur­ing the hit release sin­gle of the main char­ac­ter, with lyrics writ­ten by a cer­tain Inigo Wal­lace (fans of The Lost Art of Keep­ing Secrets will be pleased to dis­cover that yes, famil­iar faces do pop up in this book).

Coun­try girl Tara is whisked off to ‘60s Lon­don to become a star; there she is dressed, she is shown off at Chelsea par­ties, pho­tographed by the best. She meets song­writ­ers, singers, design­ers, and records her song. And she falls in love — with two men. Behind the buzz and excite­ment of her suc­cess, the bit­ter­ness between her elder sis­ter Lucy and her friend Matilda haunts Tara. Their past friend­ship is bro­ken and among the secrets and the strange­ness of both their mar­riages, the past keeps on reappearing.

Rice’s skills as an author lie not only in her abil­ity to bring the 1960’s so vividly to life, but in the way she writes real­is­tic, rounded and com­pelling char­ac­ters. Tara isn’t as engag­ing a hero­ine as Pene­lope, but I liked the nar­ra­tive choice to let the reader see the world through her eyes. Tara feels like a young woman I could have known grow­ing up. I prob­a­bly was her at some point grow­ing up. Shel­tered and naïve, I think Tara is a pro­tag­o­nist a lot of read­ers will iden­tify with. That feel­ing of being slightly awk­ward in your own skin, unsure of your­self yet anx­ious to please, want­ing to stand out, but not quite hav­ing the con­fi­dence, expe­ri­ence or poise to pull it off. Yet she’s never a weak or insipid char­ac­ter. Rice really cap­tures that feel­ing of being sev­en­teen with the whole world at your fingertips.

The heart of the novel is really Tara’s rela­tion­ship with her sis­ter. Lucy’s story forms some of the most fas­ci­nat­ing parts of the book, from her tur­bu­lent friend­ship with child­hood friend Matilda to her pas­sion­ate romance and trou­bled mar­riage with Raoul. Tara idol­izes both Raoul and her sister’s mar­riage, but as she is intro­duced to a world of famous singers, musi­cians, pho­tog­ra­phers and mod­els, her under­stand­ing of the world and the peo­ple in it is tested. Lucy is a far more stub­born, fiery coun­ter­part to Tara and I enjoyed watch­ing both of them strug­gle with their choices, find their own iden­ti­ties and grow through­out the book.

Though you could eas­ily read The Mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Tara Jupp with­out hav­ing picked up The Lost Art of Keep­ing Secrets, there are old friends who make brief appear­ances, while a grown up Inigo plays an impor­tant part in Tara’s singing career. As some­one who adored these char­ac­ters the first time round it’s always a thrill to see where they’ve ended up since we last left them.

Spoiler! For those who enjoy a bit of romance in their books, the scenes between Tara and Inigo are beau­ti­fully under­stated though I found they lacked the chem­istry of Pene­lope and Harry. End of spoiler

Set eight years after The Lost Art of Keep­ing Secrets, this feels like quite a dif­fer­ent book, which isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing. It’s more mature, cer­tainly denser and per­haps a smidgen over-long. It has quite a sedate begin­ning, but look­ing back I appre­ci­ated the depth of char­ac­ter back­ground Rice takes the time to build up. Some read­ers might be a lit­tle thrown that a good first third of the novel is about Tara’s child­hood and despite the syn­op­sis, I wouldn’t say the focus of the book is really Tara’s singing career.

Small coun­try girl makes it big’ may sound a lit­tle cliché but Rice han­dles it in her own unique style. The Mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Tara Jupp is a coming-of-age story that has a rich­ness and char­ac­ter to it and in large part this is due to the amount of detail that has gone into this book. As with her pre­vi­ous novel, Rice really cap­tures the era, the peo­ple and the move­ments of the time and sev­eral recog­nis­able fig­ures grace the pages, includ­ing Brian Jones, Niko­laus Pevs­ner and David Bai­ley.

Spoiler! Not to men­tion a big nod to the Rolling Stones whose first gig at the Mar­quee club in 1962 is a scene in the novel. End of spoiler

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Rice gives us a host of messy char­ac­ters we can relate to and whips up the feel­ing and energy of the time. Fans of the 60’s or those who remem­ber it will undoubt­edly get an even greater sat­is­fac­tion out of this one.

‘Incred­i­ble,’ I said. ‘I have a rare feel­ing that I’m going to be able to tell my grand­chil­dren that once upon a time, I was in the right place at the right time.’

‘The right place at the right time,’ mused Inigo. ‘Don’t think I’ve been there since I acci­den­tally walked in on Char­lotte Fer­ris in her under­wear in the Blue Room at Mil­ton Magna, Christ­mas 1954.’

~ page 456

My ini­tial thoughts were that it doesn’t quite stand up to its pre­de­ces­sor, and while it’s true I didn’t fall in love with the char­ac­ters as I did with Char­lotte, Pene­lope, Harry and Aunt Clare, the more I think about it, the more I found I liked it. Def­i­nitely worth a sec­ond or third read­ing to soak up all the details, per­haps this time with my extremely high expec­ta­tions put to one side.

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Many thanks to Rik at Quer­cus Books and Eva Rice for the oppor­tu­nity to review The Mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Tara Jupp.