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The Queen of the Tambourine

3.55  ·  Rating Details ·  896 Ratings  ·  150 Reviews
Funny and moving.-The New York Times In prose vibrant and witty, The Queen of the Tambourine traces the emotional breakdown-and eventual restoration-of Eliza Peabody, a smart and wildly imaginative woman who has become unbearably isolated in her prosperous London neighborhood. Eliza must reach the depths of her downward spiral before she can once again find health and sere ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published September 1st 2007 by Europa Editions (first published 1991)
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Dec 11, 2007 Leena rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: non-amateur readers :D
I picked up this book because the cover recommended it for people who liked Sylvia Plath and Muriel Sparks. I said to myself, I enjoyed The Bell Jar and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. SOLD!

And if you combine those two books together, yeah, you kinda get this one. The mental breakdown plus the quirky older woman.

Try to ignore the garish pink cover that makes it look like chick-lit. It's not. Although, I can see how some readers might be misled by the early quirkiness of the book as well. It i
Jan 21, 2008 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jane Gardam has a real gift for dialogue and this is an odd observation when talking about an epistolary novel like 'The Queen of the Tambourine.' I'm not usually fond of the epistolary genre. It's gimmicky, too often cute, and, by its essence, restrictive in scope and tone. And yet, and yet. Gardam manages to break the bounds of the form and so we get a fair amount of action and dialogue as she recounts events to her supposed correspondent.
I came to this novel after having read her most recent
Jul 03, 2008 Cheryl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book consists of a series of letters the narrator, Eliza, writes to her neighbor, Joan, who suddenly ups and leaves her family one day and goes abroad. Eliza's own husband leaves her the following Christmas, and she embarks on a downward spiral within her own mind (though the spiral had really begun long before then).

This is one of those books that you have to read through to the end for things to add up and make sense. The first 20 pages or so were terribly amusing, then up until 10 pages b
Nov 01, 2008 itpdx rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I heard about the author on NPR and was intrigued. I mooched a copy of this book from the UK to try her out. This is definitely a fun read. You start out with the impression that Eliza Peabody is odd, then you figure out that she is crazy and then you try to sort out what is real and what is not and possibly what sent her around the bend. Along the way you have contact all sorts of interesting characters in her neighborhood (real and imagined). This is funny and touching.

"But there's time yet. T
Dec 27, 2008 Jane rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I stayed with this for about 80 pages. I wanted to like it more -- it's an epistolary novel; it's funny; and it came recommended by one of my favorite reader/friends (Ted), who turned me on to Mrs. Caliban and other good books where the line between reality and otherworldness is blurred.

So... how did the book fall out of my favor? Well, number one, it's a one-sided epistolary novel: the protagonist narrator, a woman slowly losing her mind, writes all the letters to her former next-door neighbor,
Oct 19, 2009 John rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library_books
I found this one to be a terrific read as a (classic British) farce; it's only late in the book did it become apparent that the neighbors' concern wasn't so "misplaced" as it'd seemed. Deus-ex-machina(ish) ending wrapped things up a bit too neatly, but Gardam is a real pro at combining the characters, setting, and plot structure into a book I really didn't want to end.
Oct 31, 2009 Nancy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Every now and then I have a craving to read something that is beautifully crafted, a book that is all lovely words. I heard about Jane Gardam on NPR(I had never heard of her) - she's a British author and she has won the Whitbread Award TWICE. (Nobody else has done that, so this author I had never heard of ought to be good, I thought)>

And she is. The book is all letters written by Eliza to her neighbor Joan, who never responds to the letters. Eliza is witty, intelligent, weirdly insightful abo
Jul 18, 2012 Jane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Funny, sad, and insightful Queen of the Tambourine is a wonderful engrossing read. Written as letters from Eliza Peabody to her neighbor Joan who has left her life on Rathbone Road and her husband and children. Eliza feels it her duty as neighbor and friend to keep her updated on what is happening with the family left behind. But more and more Eliza writes about her own life and times. Eliza's opinions about her neigborhood and her neighbors are sometimes hilarious and insightful - sometimes ver
Dec 06, 2010 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A modern epistolary novel...I think that's how you say it. Eliza Peabody, opinionated, rich and confident writes a well meaning if insensitive letter to one of her neighbours and from then on her life with all its clear boundaries and comfortable middle class interests begins to disintegrate. Everything we see, everything we hear is through the eyes and ears of this, initially, maddening woman. Gardam challenges us as the book goes on to try to understand what is reality, what is imagination and ...more
Mar 29, 2011 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nook, own
First, I love epistolary fiction, though this certainly lends itself more to journal entries than letters. Second, how much like our favorite Hyacinth Bucket is Eliza in the beginning of this book? I couldn't help but picture Hyacinth and Richard in place of Eliza and her long suffering husband. However, Gardam quickly swerves from a British comedy of manners to the tale of a woman's slow descent into madness that's reminecent of another of my favorites, Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wal ...more
Mij Woodward
Jul 28, 2012 Mij Woodward rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
What an amazing book.

I do not know where to begin.

I loved it all.

Midway through the book, I realized that not only was this the story of Eliza Peabody, but also a vehicle for some little vignettes or short stories of people surrounding Eliza, real or imagined.

When I realized this, I thought to myself, "not fair, not fair. I just want to read about Eliza and never mind these other people and their stories." Yet I was drawn in, could not tear myself away from these stories, and wanted to know the
Aug 17, 2011 Trish rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, classics, british
How can a book be hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time? In Jane Gardam’s hands, this epistolary novel never takes a pot-shot at anyone (without good cause), but becomes increasingly specific, focusing especially on how women of a certain age manage their falling-apart lives. All kinds of lives are looked at: those who left; those who stayed; those who worked; those who did not. There is a distressing yet comforting sense of being a victim at a disaster, being looked after by those very s ...more
Nov 27, 2012 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature, fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 28, 2011 Anne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oh the delight of a rollicking good novel! This funny and poignant story by Jane Gardam is a terrific read. She proves herself to be a versatile writer. Unlike the emotional restraint of the eponymous character in Old Filth, our heroine in The Queen of the Tambourine seems to have no emotional filters at all.

The book starts out breathtakingly manic as Joan writes a highly familiar and opinionated letter to her neighbor, who, it turns out, she doesn't really know at all. The novel progresses, le
There is no way in hell I can write a fair review of this novel. I adore Jane Gardam. I am a FAN. I am totally prejudiced. She is one of the best writers on the planet. That said, this is 4 stars, not quite 5. Say 4.8 stars.

Gardam may be best enjoyed by people who are no longer young. Her insights are continuous but tempered. She has enormous sympathy for the wounds that life inflicts but without an ounce of unbecoming sweetness. Gardam remains clear eyed, observant and sane. She has a perspecti
Jun 02, 2012 Sue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sue by: John
This is a novel of a woman in crisis, but, and it's a big but, it's difficult to identify exactly what the crisis is. Her life, her marriage, her neighborhood, all appear to be disintegrating before her eyes, behind her back and in her mind. So she writes letters. Welcome to the world of Eliza Peabody. And what a world it is. Full of pathos, farce and very funny vignettes. Don't miss this chance to experience someone else's crisis rather than live your own.

Highly recommended (and just what I nee
Candy Wood
Written as a one-sided correspondence from middle-aged Eliza Peabody to an acquaintance named Joan, this novel is as quirky as its narrator, who, her neighbors fear, is going mad. I picked it up because I had enjoyed children’s and young adult novels by Jane Gardam, and at first I found Eliza’s eccentricities annoying (while at the same time admiring her creator’s skill at producing that reaction). After a while I was hooked on the mystery of distinguishing the real from the products of Eliza’s ...more
Allie Riley
Mar 23, 2013 Allie Riley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Eliza Peabody is, it seems, a woman who is disintegrating. Through a series of letters written to Joan, a neighbour who appears to have run away to Bangladesh and makes no reply, she describes the breakdown of her marriage and her mental health. It is not always clear how reliable she is, but much is clarified towards the end of the book. There are many flashes of humour but my predomninant feeling was one of great sadness. Her life appears to be overshadowed by tragedy and it is only as the nov ...more
Ayelet Waldman
Feb 26, 2013 Ayelet Waldman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I adore Jane Gardam. Lovely novel.
Terri Jacobson
Mar 02, 2013 Terri Jacobson rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This novel is told by the narrator, Eliza Peabody, who is 50 years old and lives in a suburb of London. She is a quite interesting person, and the story is told in the form of letters she writes to a former neighbor who suddenly left her husband to travel abroad and find herself. It becomes apparent that Eliza is struggling to cope with her own midlife issues, and the letters show increasing manic behavior and delusions. Her husband of many years leaves her, her housekeeper resigns, and she sudd ...more
Jane Seaford
Apr 10, 2013 Jane Seaford rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Queen of the Tambourine is the sort of novel I love to read. The writing is elegant, clever, witty, absorbing and draws you in. The characters are real, the story both intriguing and believable. The ending quite perfect and I didn't see it coming. I first read it many years ago and have just re-read it. It still enchanted me.

It's written as a series of letters from Eliza to a neighbour, Joan, who has abandoned her family and gone travelling. Eliza lives in an outer London suburb and her life
Jun 17, 2013 Heidi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 07, 2013 Ape rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: england
I actually enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. Perhaps this is why I've been putting it off so long, because I thought it would be a dull nothingness. But it's not.

It's set... during the late 80s maybe?? Hard to say, but in London, and is told through letters written by Eliza Peabody, a 50-something wife of a civil servant/british diplomat; to a woman called Joan, who lived across the world, but has abandoned husband and children to travel the world. At the start Eliza is the ki
Apr 08, 2014 Kerri rated it liked it
From the reviews, I expected to be laughing out loud but it may be too based on English humor for me to fully appreciate. It had some funny things, and was definitely enjoyable and crazy, but I wouldn't call it "funny". Eliza is fantastic; she is smart and discerning, even if most of the time it is a crazy discernment. It's strange to be reading and wondering what is "real" in the book, which parts of her narrative are agreed upon by all characters involved. There was gorgeous prose and fascinat ...more
Apr 30, 2014 Karlan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult
This fascinating novel won the Whitbread award in 1991, but I missed it. The plot takes surprising twists so that I lay awake in the night thinking about what really happened to the narrator, a 50 year old woman whose career was that of British foreign service wife but now her marriage is ending. Don't miss the scene of a children's books author visiting NYC to meet with the editor of her first adult novel.
Oct 15, 2014 Lynda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Well Jane Gardam is generally one of my favourite authors and indeed I am just about to invest in her newly published bumper book of short stories, but I really struggled with this one. Great title, given to the novel's heroine (is that what she is) by Barry the patient she bonds with in her role as Hospice volunteer. The rest of the book appears to be a bit of a demented muddle related by a very unreliable narrator indeed: Eliza Peabody late of the British Empire has many of the traits of Garda ...more
Jul 14, 2014 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you read reviews of this book, many will describe it as touching, which it is, and funny, which it also is. The main character is off her nut, but not so much so that she doesn't know it at some level. She's finding a way to deal with loss and mourn a relationship gone wrong, among other things that "might have been." She admits everything to herself in the end, but the reader realizes what is real and what is pretend along with way. Because the book is told entirely in letters written by an ...more
Jul 08, 2014 Sharon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I swore this year I would keep better track of how I find the books I read. I can't remember what made me pick up Jane Gardam right now. I am pretty sure an author referenced her, but I may never remember the circumstances and the Internet seems unwilling to help me.

I usually enjoy epistolary novels and so I was excited when I realized that The Queen of the Tambourine was letters written by Eliza to her friend Jane. However, after awhile the correspondence seemed a bit off. What exactly is happe
Carolyn Stevens Shank
Eliza Peabody, a fiftyish, childless wife, awakens one Christmas Day to learn that her marriage is kaput. Her husband of 30 years leaves her. She is in the dark: she has only bits and pieces of a puzzle. The picture does not come clear. Fuelled by her fantasies, Eliza descends into a sense of apartness that leads her further and further away from her true sense of realization . She is groping in the dark, looking for... what? She has lost her way. Years earlier, she had suffered a miscarriage a ...more
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Jane Mary Gardam OBE is a British author of children's and adult fiction. She also reviews for the Spectator and the Telegraph, and writes for BBC radio. She lives in Kent, Wimbledon and Yorkshire. She has won numerous literary awards including the Whitbread Award, twice. She is mother of Tim Gardam, Principal of St Anne's College, Oxford. Jane has been awarded the Heywood Hill Literary Prize for ...more
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“But there's time yet. The old women of the tribe have almost always been the wiser. If they keep their marbles long enough. Old men forget--or tend to reminisce, and reminisce falsely and sententiously as a rule. We are often very silly in our middle years but we tend to improve” 4 likes
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