V. Briceland's Reviews > The Town in Bloom

The Town in Bloom by Dodie Smith
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Apr 11, 12

Read from April 02 to 11, 2012

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.
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