The Town in Bloom

By Dodie Smith

637 ratings - 3.56* vote

London's theatre world of the 1920's provides a glittering backdrop for Mouse, an eighteen-year-old Lancashire girl intent on a stage career. She tells the story herself with the utmost frankness and with an authenticity which derives from Dodie Smith's own wide experience as both actress and playwright.Mouse never felt that her nickname fully suited her; tiny she might be London's theatre world of the 1920's provides a glittering backdrop for Mouse, an eighteen-year-old

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Book details

Hardcover, 271 pages
1965 by Little, Brown
Original Title
The Town in Bloom
ISBN
0434713538 (ISBN13: 9780434713530)

Community Reviews

Tahira

After completing the trinity of Dodie Smith's novels for adults, I've remembered why I appreciate her so much.

Similar to I Capture the Castle, The Town in Bloom offers readers a presentation of unapologetic feminism and liberation that so many of Smith's counterparts lacked. Dodie Smith was, in fact, a rather brazen writer for her time and while I do not know what British culture was like in the first half of the 20th century, I do know that in the states, we were just beginning to push the boundaries of prescriptive sexual and gendered roles in 1965 (when this book was published). Smith's honest and blunt approach to writing about women is refreshing:

"My aunt's broadmindedness had extended to women who lived with men who couldn't marry them ('George Eliot did'), to emancipated women who refused to marry the men they lived with ('One doesn't necessarily agree with them but they are making a stand about something'), even to prostitutes ('They are often driven to it')."

I especially appreciate this story about four young friends caught up in the drama of theater life in 1920s London. Unlike The New Moon with the Old, which was relatively boring and knotty (too many story lines), Smith's other two novels are candid and confident and endearing, due much in part to the narrators.

As I said, after reading this novel I remembered why I love Dodie Smith so much. In addition to being rather female-positive, her characters manage to contemplate their contexts in a way that resonates with me, because it is so genuine. "Youth was now conscious of the deplorable state of the world. In the twenties, only our private worlds had existed for us."

Overall, I am delighted to have read these works by Dodie Smith, and still recommend her to as many people as possible.

V. Briceland

It's pretty easy to assume Dodie Smith's The Town in Bloom is autobiographical. It's not; Smith pored through her exhaustive diaries to produce four volumes of autobiography about her literary pursuits, her life in the theater, and her brief stint in Hollywood. But somehow everything in this novel about the maturation of a teen girl among the fast theatrical set of London in the nineteen-twenties feels autobiographical. Every richly-detailed chapter evokes a lost era of glamorous chorines and a thrilling post-war independence of spirit. The mists of nostalgia here are so thick that they feel almost narcotic.

It's because of the loving attention to detail that The Town in Bloom is second only to Smith's I Capture the Castle in charm among her handful of novels. Yes, I'm using the C-word in connection with Dodie Smith again—but has any author other than she truly cornered the market on that particular quality? Even her screenplay for the haunted-house thriller, The Uninvited, oozes a Dodie Smith-brand charm from every cinematic pore.

Though The Town in Bloom has a certain young-adult appeal, and although her heroine, Mouse, is still in her late teens when the bulk of the novel takes place, the novel's themes are decidedly adult in nature; there are multiple love affairs, frank discussions and consummations of premarital sex, and quite a lot of extramarital sex. It's all handled with Smith's trademark delicacy. I have a difficult time imagining that even (or especially) in the nineteen-sixties when the novel was written, that its themes could be considered anything but quaint.

Moreover, the novel's ending is adult not in sexual content, but in its melancholy. When I first read the novel in my late teens, I thought the conclusion abrupt and strange. The older I become, and the more I re-read this, one of my favorite comfort reads, the more graceful and true to life I find it—like one last sweet scent of summer on a bitterly cold autumn breeze.

Evelina | AvalinahsBooks



I simply adored it The Town in Bloom! I am beginning to think that maybe I can't react to a book by Dodie Smith in any other way. It's both light and whimsical, but also profound and serious. When Dodie Smith tells you a story, she somehow manages to show you that you can be lighthearted in even the darkest situations, and that perhaps life is more playful than we're used to seeing it. I've even dug through other people's reviews to actually see if this book wasn't autobiographical – it isn't. But it sure feels like it is, and even if it's not, I feel like the author did have experience in certain of the things she writes about because how else could she have made it all so real? Nobody knows the theatre inside and out unless one has been a part of it, however briefly. The setting is rich and colorful, full of detail you'd never learn any other way, and it kindles your imagination, as well as bringing the 1920-30's back to life in front of your eyes. Dodie Smith just writes everything with so much vigor that you can't help but gobble the book up.

The Positivity In Smith’s Style

I don’t know how Dodie Smith manages it, but it’s like even when she’s talking about problems, she’s doing it in an upbeat way, or even if something bad happens in her stories, the main vibe is that it’s not the ending and nothing bad really lingers in life. Reading her books is basically like an anti-anxiety pill for me. If I can’t sleep? I can read something of Dodie Smith’s and go to sleep smiling and have the best sleep ever. She’s just got this incredibly peaceful and calming style. Have you noticed?



Some people might say that it's 'not serious enough' to read books like that, or perhaps it's naive and whatnot. But it's precisely that kind of attitude, I believe, that has half the world in a depressive state. If we think we can only talk about serious things with a frown, then how are we ever going to feel good about life at all? This must be one of the main reasons why I love Dodie Smith's books so much – she illuminates characters that are so opposite to who I am, and they teach me what I lack to be a happier person – in my views, my choices and my reflections. This is why Dodie Smith is definitely reread material.

And Then There’s The Humor

Despite being so laid back and calm in her style, Dodie Smith also has the biting wit you will enjoy. It’s not outright laugh kind of funny – it’s more like Jane Austen’s writing – you appreciate it for the wit, smile and nod your head at it, feel amused by how smart that was. Dodie Smith also has the bitey tone, but it’s so subtle, you sometimes have to look for it. She subtly pokes fun at the main character, and in this book it’s the first person, so the narrator always slightly laughs at themselves, which is a pleasant tone to read. It’s a distinctly British kind of humor too – but not the dark kind. Oh, it’s so hard to pinpoint exactly what I mean, but if you’ve been around British people at all, you’ll know it. It’s very enjoyable and cheering.

The Characters Are Delightful Oddballs

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Libby

This book... I don't know exactly what I think. It marks the fourth and last of the easily-accessible Dodie Smiths that I've read; if I want to read another one, I'll have to fork out ridiculous amounts of money for the discontinued "A Tale of Two Families" or "Girl in the Candlelit Bath", which I probably won't do, so this probably puts an end to my recent obsessive Dodie Smith reading. Was it a good end? I think so. Definitely entertaining; I couldn't put it down until somewhere around 2AM last night. Did I LIKE it? I'm just not sure.

It's about Mouse (we never learn her real name, which annoyed me a little bit), who goes off to a boarding house all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and excited for the theatrical career that she believes awaits her in London. Things quickly get complicated, especially when she embarks on an affair with her theater's manager. Her friends, Lilian, Molly, and Zelle, all have their own drama and difficulties, too. There's also a subplot in which Mouse and said friends have lunch together, forty years later.

There was a lot to enjoy, which probably accounted for my not being able to put it down last night. Mouse is probably THE most brazen character I have ever read about, and I kept gaping at the things that she did. She was such an interesting person -- she almost always put herself and her own interests first, but she wasn't exactly SELFISH, either. Just headstrong in such a way that she really never looked back. Dodie Smith's characters and their (usually unexpectedly forceful) personalities are my favorite thing about her books, and Mouse definitely didn't disappoint in this aspect.

So I guess my issue was... the plot. I was SO intrigued and excited by the first couple chapters; they promised adventure and mystery and lots of young people in one place getting up to crazy things, which is always fun to read about. But once Mouse started her affair with Rex Crossway, the book did this little shift, and suddenly it was ALL about that... which was okay, and I began to get into it, except then it suddenly shifted again, when the affair stopped, and refocused on Mouse's friends, before bouncing back to Mouse and leading her towards a new adventure that never got discussed very much.

So my brain was going "okay, fun London adventure story! Well, no, actually -- this is about Mouse being brazen and gutsy and kind of a coming-of-age thing. Wait, erm, no, actually... this is about unconventional sex lives? Okay, I'll run with that... but wait, it just shifted again! WHAT IS THIS BOOK DOING?"

And then, to top it all off, suddenly they're sixty and having coffee and their lives still pretty much revolve around the decisions they made at twenty, which I thought was both strange and depressing.

To praise Dodie Smith, though -- her books make me remember that authors don't always have to write the same kind of stuff, which is something that I always manage to forget. All four of her books that I've read have been SO different. "I Capture the Castle" has this kind of solemn beauty that none of the others can touch, and the most deliberately-drawn story arc. "The New Moon with the Old" is a slightly silly modern fairy tale that manages to contain a lot of wisdom at the same time. "It Ends with Revelations" is about older characters and is also kind of politically progressive. And then there's this one.

Definitely not my favorite, but fun nonetheless.

Matthew Mainster

I have now read I Capture the Castle, The New Moon in with the Old, It Ends With Revelations, A Tale of Two Families, and this book ... I read them in that order, and that also happens to be the order of how I liked them. Despite being my least favorite of Dodie Smith's novels, this book stuck with me and I found myself stealing away to read it whenever I had a chance throughout the day. I feel like I'm getting pickier and pickier about books as I get older, so that's still saying something! I've had to force myself to sit down and read most of the books I've read recently. Dodie Smith is my favorite writer, and this book did not disappoint. I highly recommend each of her books! I have only one more left to read (The Girl from the Candlelit Bath), and then I'll have read all of them! So sad!! Luckily most of them are now available on Kindle, so please do give this greatly underrated novelist a try!! Start with I Capture the Castle :)

Katrina

While I Capture the Castle is undeniably Dodie Smith's best work (and also, to my surprise, her first novel), I always find her works delightful. Dodie Smith writes the way my mind works. That's not to say that our writing style is the same - I'm not sure I'd be able to match her characters' signature wry humor and hearty skepticism - but there's something particularly compelling about the way she puts words together. It feels like she's reaching into my head, tugging out my thought processes, and unwinding them on the page. It's a terribly selfish reason to enjoy an author's works, I know, but I think it's one most of her characters would understand.

The Town in Bloom covers a rather limited section of its main character's life, who is never actually named beyond her adopted (and misleading) nickname, "Mouse." The story centers around a pivotal year in her life, when she moved to London as a stubbornly independent 18 year old, determined to succeed at a life on the stage. While her dreams of being an actress were swept out from under her early on, she quickly forged her longest-lasting relationships, including friendship, her first love, and a 20 year romance. Two glimpses of her life 40 years into the future frame this central narrative, introducing the main cast and showing the culmination of that summer's events.

One of my favorite elements of a Dodie Smith novel is that while romance may drive much of the plot, sometimes consuming the characters' attention and motivations, it's rarely the culmination of the story. The Last Act, as Mouse terms it, usually turns out to be less about that all-consuming passion and more focused on the pursuit of self-actualization. The characters may not have it all together. In fact, they rarely do. They're often selfish, entirely absorbed in their own needs and blind to those around them. They're usually convinced they're destined for far greater success than life will actually toss their way - but they're also determined to fling aside lofty ambition and fight for what they want. It's a surprisingly practical way of viewing the world, yet it's shot through with the most beautiful, vivid dreams.

This particular novel is hovering at around 3.5 stars for me - while it's a thoroughly enjoyable read, and I'll gladly add it to my growing collection of this author's books (how pleased I will be if I can gather a full matching set), it feels rather short. Its first person narration limits the point of view rather severely. It's clearly intended to only provide a portrait of the main character's thoughts, but that results in much of the cast feeling flat in comparison and leaves some of their actions in question. Then there's the amount of time covered in the course of the novel. I would have liked to learn more about Mouse's life after she left London, but it's really only hinted at in places.

The Town in Bloom is a quick, fun read with plenty of interesting thoughts to chew on, and I'd certainly recommend it to any fan of the author. It may not be her most sophisticated effort, but it's still a lovely window into another time.

Kirsty

Review written in 2o12.

The Town in Bloom is another of Corsair’s reprints of three Dodie Smith novels. It was first published in 1965.

The novel has been split into three separate sections. The first section opens with a lunch reunion, held in London every five years without fail. Aside from Mouse, three ‘friends one has known from [her] youth’ have been invited – Molly, Lilian and Zelle. The luncheon is a slip back into the pasts of the characters. They always visit the same restaurant, their meal is identical to that which they ordered during their first momentous meal together, and they are made, almost forced, to absorb themselves back into the past. Lilian insists that her friends are ‘not to talk about the present. You’re to think yourselves into the past – so that the past becomes the present.’

Zelle is always invited to these reunions, but fails to show up. The group haven’t seen her for many years – they knew her ‘very well, but not for long, and… a long time ago’ - but never really give up hope that she will show up. There is a foreshadowing that their relationship with Zelle ended in an incredibly unhappy manner. Smith alludes to ‘the way things ended’, a rather ominous statement which becomes clear as the novel progresses. Mouse spots her quite by chance in a park outside the restaurant and, intent on speaking to her, follows her to a tenement flat block which has a ‘grim, grubby respectability’.

In the present day narration, Mouse is a character who is incredibly interested in art and is also writing a book, a task which is proving more difficult than she believed it would be. We never find out her Christian name which she describes as being too long, and the affectionate ‘comic nickname’ bestowed on her by her friends sticks in consequence.

The second section of the novel then goes back in time to Mouse’s first night at ‘the Club’ during the 1920s. She is an orphan who has left her home in Lancashire after the death of her beloved Aunt Marion to start a new life in London, feeling ‘wonderfully free’. Her Aunt inspired Mouse’s love of the theatre and her niece wants to become a success on the stage in order to honour her. On her first night at the Club which is referred to as the other girls as ‘the village’, Mouse meets Molly Lorimer and Lilian Denison, who are both involved in musical comedy. The girls are all orphans and this gives them a certain solidarity with one another. They consequently become firm friends, united by their experiences. Mouse is mothered by them immediately, and even in the present-day narration they call her ‘child’.

Whilst in London, Mouse subsequently visits the Crossway Theatre in the hope of finding an acting job. She meets the actor-manager, the revered and kindly Rex Crossway. She soon finds herself part of an audition. Her sheer will and determination allow her to prevail in some of the situations she meets with. A good example of this is that despite being the wrong candidate for the acting job, she is offered a position as Rex’s secretary’s assistant. Secretary Eve Lester is ‘elegant, rather than smart or fashionable… what she really had was a faded beauty’. The ‘charm and personality’ of the protagonist serve to carry her career forwards.

There are many touches throughout which are incredibly and unmistakeably British. Smith’s distinctive writing style really shines through in The Town in Bloom. Her descriptions of the countryside, the restaurant in which the friends have lunch, and even her observations of everyday life, are so vivid that they set the scene immediately. The way in which Smith portrays many varied elements of life is wonderful. She does not used clichéd descriptions, but those which are fresh and interesting – for example, Lilian is described as having ‘gardenia-like sophistication’ and Molly has a ‘milkmaid freshness’ about her. Mouse explains that ‘when I studied my face in a dressing-table glass I knew I could play Lady Macbeth’.

The characters who feature in the novel have a wonderful array of unusual names – Zelle, Mouse and Madam Lily de Luxe among them. The character building throughout is executed well. We learn so much about Mouse and her friends from the moment they are introduced. Molly particularly is bossy and determined to be in charge. If she was portrayed by an author other than Smith, she may well be an unlikeable character, but the reader warms to her immediately.

The Town in Bloom is told from the first person perspective of Mouse. A journal entry is used on one occasion which helps to set the scene, but unfortunately this mixed narrative technique is not continued as the book progresses. Her narrative voice is distinctive, however, and flows relatively well throughout.

Smith’s novels seem to run on a theme, as a love interest for the main protagonist is included without fail at some point during their story. In this case, Mouse suddenly realises that she is in love with Rex Crossway and tells him so in rather an unlikely fashion. His only actions are to accept this announcement which comes out of nowhere, and to confess that he is simultaneously in love with her. This seems an incredibly unlikely course of events, particularly as Smith has not given even a shadow of the possible love between them beforehand. Various problems for the couple ensue as a consequence. The first half of The Town in Bloom was very promising, but it did wane a little and the storyline seemed rather unlikely in places.

The Town in Bloom is a coming of age story, essentially about growing up and moving forward. It is certainly an interesting novel, but it is not as engrossing as It Ends With Revelations, and certainly not as fine as I Capture the Castle.

Daniela

3 1/2 stars

This is the story of 18-year-old Mouse (we are never told her real name), who arrives in London in the 1920s to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. She rents a cubicle in a Ladies Club where she meets Lilly and Molly, two fellow actresses trying to make it in the theatre world as well. A bit later, a young rich socialite named Zelle joins the trio.

Fearless as she is, Mouse manages to get a job on her first day in London - not as an actress, but at least as a secretary at the famous Crossway theatre. There she soon meets Rex Crossway, manager/actor and philanderer extraordinaire. Of course, Mouse hopelessly falls in love with him. The main part of the book focuses on her affair with Rex and the love lives of her two friends Lilly and Molly.

I think I will never not like anything by Dodie Smith, but this was my least favorite of the three novels I have read, the others being I Capture the Castle and The Town in Bloom.

Smith has a real knack for creating heroines that are spunky and naive and utterly likable, and Mouse is no exception. At the same time, Mouse's love interest is pretty unlikable. Rex is a cardboard cutout of the married man having one affair after another and I couldn't see his appeal at all, which dampened my enthusiasm for the book quite a bit.

If you haven't read anything by Dodie Smith, I wouldn't start with this one (start with I Capture the Castle), but fans of her work will surely enjoy this.

Rikke

"The Town in Bloom" is one of those books, that one should read for the sake of the characters and not the plot itself. Smith's youthful trio consisting of the extremely stubborn, fun and clumsy Mouse, the beautiful and elegant Lily and the practical and naive Molly, fills the book with charm. Especially the main character Mouse is an adorable creature, and her many failed (yet determined) attempts at acting are beyond amusing.

The plot itself is fairly predictable. Young and love-lusting girls get involved in secret affairs caused by their lack of judgement, their extreme idolization and naivety. Some dreams come true - and some dreams get crushed by the ruthless reality. During the course of the novel Mouse has to realize that she'll never be the actor she once thought she was, and therefore she has to learn her real strengths. While Smith's writing always is witty, this realization is a bit melancholic as well.
In fact, Dodie Smith once wanted to be an actress herself, but had to learn she was a better playwright and author than she was an actress. There's no doubt in my mind that this novel is a bit tinted by Smith's own experiences.

My main problem with this novel involves quite a few spoilers. There's something in the love affair that simply doesn't ring true to me. I do not understand the sudden shift in the novel, when Mouse falls in love, and I do not understand Lily's motivation for the life she leads.

The ending is beautiful and bittersweet - it all ends up rather melancholic, with three older women looking back at a summer that changed their life forever.

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