Jacqueline Winspear’s newest addition to the Maisie Dobbs saga, Leaving Everything Most Loved, is a continuation of the norm and of the magical life born out of tribulation and toil that we fans follow.
Maisie is the daughter of a simple man who long ago lost his beloved wife and the mother of his only child. Not knowing what else to do, the father sends Maisie into service at the tender age of thirteen (at least, in this day and age we would consider it very young). But she is not constructed to be a mere maid; her brain thrives for knowledge, challenge, and inspiration, so she sneeks into the master’s library and reads at night despite her exhaustion. She is caught. Instead of being fired, she is encouraged, nurtured, and taken under wing. This beginning—to be found in novel #1, Maisie Dobbs—is a bit like the reveal of Cinderella, a jewel of a girl, masked by an apron.
The initial book is set post-World War I and that aspect is fascinating and heartbreaking. Maisie had spent the war as a nurse and is eventually sent home after the field hospital where she is assisting is bombed. She recovers. Her fiance lives. But the PTSD suffered nearly nationwide permeates every word, every phrase of the opening book. Winspear’s ability to re-create this world is part of the reason I fell for this series. World War I is not a campaign I know as thoroughly as WWII, so I was intrigued.
When it comes to mysteries and thrillers, Maisie Dobbs added a bit more depth, nuance, and personality. The trauma of a nation was vividly drawn, the character of its people (keep calm, carry on) was admirable, and heartbreaking. I have avidly waited for and read each subsequent installment.
Where I am faltering now is that despite Maisie’s continuing search for sense of place, her uncertain love life (a very weak aspect to the story), and the current mystery she is trying to solve, Winspear has made Maisie so self-sufficient that even when she doubts or questions herself, I feel as though it’s nothing more than a reactive response, only skin deep. And even as she’s contemplating a huge life shift, isn’t it convenient that she doesn’t have to consider how to pay for it? Maisie is so smart, dedicated, and self-possessed. And, her luck is such that she happens to meet just the right people to help her with her thirst for knowledge (with the bank account to make it happen), and these people are such that they are not just incredibly smart, perceptive, and wise, but are elevated to the point that they seem to be gods. How miraculous, and handy, to have not one, but two such people to guide this former maid into her new world, mentor her with screenplay “right” answers, and lead her into a perfectly fitting career. Now one mentor as bequeathed her enough monies that it matters not whether Maisie’s fledgling investigative business succeeds or not, she can go anywhere or do anything she wants (1933 permitting), and how convenient that her decision to make a serious life shift is not predicated on savings accounts, delayed gratification, etc. It’s a bit too neat and tidy for me, but still, the story pulls.
Though I may not go out and spend $27 on the hardcover version of the eighth installment, I will definitely search it out on the “new releases” shelf at the library. I’m not kidding myself. Once hooked…
Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear (Harper Collins, 2013).