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Diary of an Ordinary Woman

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  1,173 ratings  ·  126 reviews
Margaret Forster presents the 'edited' diary of a woman, born in 1901, whose life spans the twentieth century. On the eve of the Great War, Millicent King begins to keep her journal and vividly records the dramas of everyday life in a family touched by war, tragedy, and money troubles. From bohemian London to Rome in the 1920s her story moves on to social work and the buil ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published March 4th 2004 by Vintage (first published 2003)
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Millicent King was a woman ahead of her time. Feisty and independent from a very young age, she refused two proposals of marriage because she wanted to do something "important" but nonetheless embarked on a long-term, secret, and passionate affair with one of her suitors -- a very "liberated" woman for the early 20th century.

After having abandoned short-lived jobs as "shop-girl" and school teacher, Millicent trained for employment as a social worker, a profession still in its infancy at that tim
Katherine Gypson
Jul 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes when you buy a book, it turns out that you're setting aside a gift for your future self. I bought this book almost two and a half years ago in a Charing Cross Road bookshop during my first trip to London and it's sat on my bookshelves ever since then. I don't know what pushed me to pick it up a few days ago but I could almost instantly tell that it was a case of right book, right time. I was deeply moved by the opportunity to follow one ordinary woman through her life as it spans the 2 ...more
Apr 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: april-2019
I absolutely adored Margaret Forster's Have the Men Had Enough? when I read it back in 2017, and think that her biography of Daphne du Maurier is superb.  It has been a surprisingly long time since I picked up another of her novels, but I selected the rather chunky Diary of an Ordinary Woman as my next Forster because it sounded splendid.  It sounds, on the face of it, as though it has rather a lot of themes in common with Have the Men Had Enough?, and I was intrigued to compare the two.

Diary of
Feb 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
I picked up a used copy of this in the UK (in Blackwell's in Oxford, I think), solely on the basis of having liked Lady's Maid and Forster's biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I'm glad I picked it up, because it's very good and happened to hit exactly the mood I was in.

The novel is in the form of a diary kept by a woman born in 1901, whose life spans almost the entire twentieth century; Forster writes a long introduction in which she meets Millicent King and agrees to edit her diary for p
Indrani Sen
Jan 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: uk, autobiography
A life chronicled in a lovely way. Covers the two momentous world wars and life in an independent English woman during these times. Covers the whole of the nineteenth century. A life well lived and well told.
Feb 14, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
It started off well but after the diary passes the second world war years it quickly peters out. There are lots of family members who feature prominently for long periods and then are rarely mentioned again. Whilst this may happen in real life it was unsatisfactory in a novel as there were lots of things left unexplained. The central character came across as very cold and unfeeling, I didn't warm to her really. ...more
Apr 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
I did not have high expectations of this book: the title and the author's reputation persuaded me in advance that it would be light reading. And indeed it was. However, I have to admit to enjoying it far more than I expected.

The author claims at the start that she met the diarist, Millicent King, at her request so that she could re-write the diaries she'd kept throughout most of the twentieth century. From then on we get edited highlights of the diaries interspersed with summaries or commentari
Francene Carroll
Jun 11, 2013 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-top-10-ever
My mom recommended this and I absolutely loved it. It's the diaries of a woman growing up through the wars in England, and spanning (like 'Any Human Heart') her whole life. Clearly there's something about the diary/memoir style that I really love! Anyway, this book really showed me what things were like to be an ordinary person experiencing the wartime, the depression and all the cultural changes that followed 100 times better than a history lesson. It really gets you to understand the values an ...more
Jul 15, 2013 rated it it was ok
It was, exactly as it is entitled, a diary of an ordinary woman. In this case you can judge a book by its cover. I was restraining myself from criticising it while I was reading it because it felt rude to criticise someone's personal thoughts- edited or otherwise. So I was really disappointed to find out at the very end that it is all fictitious. At least now I don't feel so bad pulling it apart. ...more
Jun 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011
I somehow didn't notice the word 'novel' on the front cover and assumed the story was real. This only slightly changed my opinion on the book - still an interesting book but I would have loved her to have been real. ...more
Jan 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I dove into this book, ignoring the prologue, the reviews and anything else that mentioned it.

It was an easy read I could sit down with for a few chapters or a couple diary entries whilst waiting for the kettle to boil. It tells the life of a perfectly ordinary woman with a difference. It starts when she's a teenager full of fire for life and ends as an 80-something enjoying the peace and quiet of her later years. In between, you follow her life through loves and losses, proposals and living in
Navlene Singh
Aug 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book should be renamed “Diary of an Extraordinary Woman”. Millicent King was lightening years ahead of her time. What an amazing life she led. I must admit, like other reviewers, I was really disappointed to find that this book wasn’t based on a true story. A gripping novel nonetheless!
Richa Bhattarai
Apr 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
I remember liking it very much when I read it about 15 years ago. Would want to reread it, I was glued to it and thought it was a real diary.
This is presented as being a real diary, with a (fictional) account of how Margaret Forster came by it, but it is a novel, the life of a woman through the twentieth century (which seems to be a theme which appealed to writers, as we approached and passed the millennium). Millicent does not marry, so this encompasses the world of work and what opportunities were available for women, and her life is touched of course by the events of the day. I have to say I found it a bit difficult to believe tha ...more
Nov 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Millicent King was just an ordinary woman who lived through two world
wars and the devastating loss that entails, into the age of
anti-nuclear, anti-war, feminist protests and marches of the 1960's and
1970's and even beyond. She was an early feminist, in her own way, who
lived an unconventional, independent life, having a few lovers, and a
long-term relationship outside the bounds of marriage. She seems to
have been an incredibly strong woman. In other words, not so ordinary,
but extraordinary.
Jane Louis-Wood
I have a dim recollection of really enjoying Private Papers by the same author, but was not as impressed by this. The notion that is the edited diary of a real person, introduced by a fictional prologue with the author narrating as herself, was unconvincing, and the editorial notes throughout seemed merely a means of avoiding the more emotionally complex elements of the text (to which the fictional diarist always responds with silence).

There is something unintentionally Pooterish about the diar
Terry S
Jun 30, 2015 rated it liked it
First half of the book I couldn't put it down, second half really dragged out too much and I found myself skimming pages towards the end. The first half was all about Millicent herself as it should have been, but towards the end it was all about Connie and others and got quite boring. Really enjoyed the earlier descriptions of life in the early part of the century, and especially wartime, but it was almost as if - once the war was over- Millicent had no life worth reporting so it was padded out ...more
Feb 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Deceptively simple in the way it's written. It really made me think about the terrible loses inflicted on ordinary families in times of war. Actually pretty depressing. ...more
Feb 23, 2017 rated it liked it
Wasn’t sure whether to classify this as fiction or non-fiction. Margaret Foster has edited the diaries of a woman called Millicent so is factual in basis but reads like a novel. I don’t normally enjoy diary formats but Millicent has such a strong ‘voice’ and readable flow (though that may be down to the editing) that it felt like she was sat next to you chatting about her life story. Starting as a 13 year old girl just before the start of WW1, it takes us to the early 1990’s. The WW2 years when ...more
Michael Rumney
May 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Starting in 1915 Forster's novel is in fact an anti war book and as such I felt it should have ended in 1946 as from then on the book loses some of its impact. I can understand why the author would want to include Korea and Greenham Common but it didn't work for me.
We follow the life of Millicent King through her diary entries and she is a woman who isn't afraid to try something new. She isn't concerned or worried about travelling to Paris or working in Rome in her younger days but as Millicent
Apr 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
I felt as if I was growing up and then growing old with Milicent while reading this story. It rings so very true, and has taught me so much about life throughout the 20th century. My favourite part of the novel was definitely nearer the beginning where Milicent is in high school and growing up in the first world war. I found myself losing interest as Milicent aged, but i suspect this may be partly because I am 18 and so the beginning felt the most relatable to me. I so wanted the diary to be tru ...more
Kari Bennett
Nov 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Katie Leech
Apr 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book so skilfully tells the story of an 'ordinary' woman living through the 20th century. Margaret Forster's ability to give a voice to Millicent over her entire life is incredibly impressive. Whilst there is something disconcerting about reading someone's entire life over the course of a book (and how it consequently makes you question the passing of time in your own life...), this story does make the journey of women in the 20th century something to really question. Women like Millicent r ...more
Lady R
May 01, 2020 rated it it was ok
Is there anything worse than lying to your readers? The introduction of this book tells us how the author met the lady who wrote these diaries and how she wanted to do justice to her life through a fictionalised account of the diaries to protect the original author.

Flicking through the book to the back to check something in the historical references whilst about 170 pages in I discovered the author note which states that actually she never actually met Milicent as the lady cancelled their meeti
Sanchary Ghosh
Jul 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really liked this diary. I found the writer very relatable and the diary read a lot like mine. Some reviewers didn't like that it was self centred, but it's quite normal.

It is fast paced, engaging and occasionally heart- breaking. It makes you think that people of the bygone eras were not all that different. Millicent King was as much of an early feminist as they come, but without coming off as hateful. It is a story of an ordinary life made extraordinary.

I will not have it in me to give this
Beth Smith-Bishton
Jun 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Unfortunately I was one of those readers who thought this was an actual diary written from the perspective of a real woman. I also found this out as I was about half way through the book. After I recovered from this shock, I still loved it. Definitely one of my favourite reads of this year, starts off simple; a diary from a teenage girls perspective. You start associating with some of Millicent’s traits, and then you’re 400 pages in having followed her entire life. Great read.
Aug 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lucinda Clarke
Jul 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was entranced with the descriptions of a spinster lady born before World War I and how her life evolved. She put duty as her first priority and explains the path taken by many who loved and lost in wartime. I won’t give any spoilers here, but the end had me sitting shaking my head. I wasn’t expecting that at all.
Mar 08, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: wwii
Somehow I found it difficult to suspend my knowledge that this was fiction, and enter into the diary properly. It was well-written and obviously also well-researched, I enjoyed the second third (set in WWII) the most. It has made me want to read a real diary from that time, Nella Last's diary for the Mass Observation Project. ...more
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Margaret Forster was educated at the Carlisle and County High School for Girls. From here she won an Open Scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford where in 1960 she was awarded an honours degree in History.

From 1963 Margaret Forster worked as a novelist, biographer and freelance literary critic, contributing regularly to book programmes on television, to Radio 4 and various newpapers and magazin

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