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The Queen of the Tambourine

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  1,148 ratings  ·  188 reviews
An alternative cover for this ISBN can be found here

Eliza believes she could never hurt anybody. Her beauty, her religion, her concern for friends and neighbours give her - she thinks - an oracular power. Then, mysteriously, the newcomer across the road disappears, and no one will tell Eliza why.
Paperback, 226 pages
Published June 11th 1992 by Abacus Software (first published 1991)
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Alex Klaushofer It would.

After a replied politely, the system wrote: "Sorry, your answer is too short. To post your answer, please add more detail."…more
It would.

After a replied politely, the system wrote: "Sorry, your answer is too short. To post your answer, please add more detail."

So I have.(less)

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Average rating 3.57  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,148 ratings  ·  188 reviews

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What is truly amazing about this book is how all the different pieces hold together! I would say that this is what characterizes Gardam’s books.

We are given a complicated puzzle that is begging to be solved. For people who love solving puzzles or mysteries, it is a must read.

When I started I was totally confused. On closing the book I marveled at how all the intricate details that had at first befuddled and exasperated me did make sense! By book’s end all is crystal clear. My first tho
May 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Allie Riley
Feb 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, british, classics
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
Jun 02, 2012 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 jus
May 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
A fascinating book, told entirely in letters from the protagonist to a woman who had been a neighbour. But is Eliza sane, and how reliable a narrator is she?

Jane Gardam is a wonderful writer, and I could hardly bear to put this book down because I wanted to work out just what was going on, and I cared about the various characters.
Dec 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
A strong 4 stars.

Difficult to describe without saying more than you want to know before you enter this book. Every review I read told me something that felt a bit too much, but it’s hard to avoid with this book. It’s a revelatory tapestry of a story.

If you know Gardam, it’s enough to say she doesn’t disappoint.

A story about a 50 year old woman writing to a woman she barely knew and possibly had a bit of a hand in running out of the neighborhood and country. It isn’t a correspondence, but a on
Oct 31, 2009 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 in
Dec 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 03, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Don't be put off by the boring synopsis: Well-to-do, middle-aged woman, slowly goes insane, alone, in her large sprawling estate. This is not an exciting book. It does, however, strike that perfect balance of bleakness and laugh-out-loud comedy that only British writers can so artfully execute. An absolutely delightful read.

And come on, "Queen of the Tamborine": How brilliant is this title?!?
May 08, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Mij Woodward
Apr 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 t
Jennifer (aka EM)
Jun 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Jennifer (aka EM) by: jo
Shelves: hidden-gems
Exquisite, layered, deep, funny-bordering-on-farce with a tragic heart. Something a bit retro about it - a bit Pymish; a bit Sparkish with that under-the-surface seething British comedy of manners that invariably both masks and reveals the brutality and consequence of the constraints imposed by class and gender. Gorgeously written, with a dream-like quality that perfectly echoes its themes; beautifully paced.
Nov 19, 2008 rated it liked it
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-do
Apr 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
May 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: britain, c21st
I haven't got time to write a proper review right now, so let's just say it was a good time in a daughter's life to read about older women not being quite as crazy as they might seem.

Update: I eventually did write a review, and here it is:
Oct 19, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Ayelet Waldman
Feb 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I adore Jane Gardam. Lovely novel.
Daniel Polansky
I read this book.
Jul 07, 2013 rated it liked it
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 Eli
Carolyn Stevens Shank
Oct 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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 hap
Dec 07, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 is funny, unt
Aug 10, 2011 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.
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
Mar 28, 2011 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
Jan 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
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 r
Jul 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Kathleen (itpdx)
Nov 01, 2008 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
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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
“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” 3 likes
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