The Town in Bloom opens with a chase scene: when Molly, Lilian, and the ironically named Mouse spot their old but estranged friend Zelle, Mouse is determined to track her down. She races round London in her pursuit, eventually finding her in a ‘rather shabby’ tenement flat. The encounter prompts Mouse to reflect on the brief time in which she knew Zelle, as a young actress living in London’s theatreland in the 1920s.
No other writer balances blissful escapism with insightful philosophical enquiry quite so successfully as Smith. On the one hand, this is a joyful and exuberant account of four charmingly unconventional young women living and loving in 1920s London. On the other, it is a gently incisive treatise on memory, identity, and the passage of time; of sex, love, and the endurance of friendship. To me, it felt like a big warm hug after a miserable day and a walk home in the rain. Oh, and its funny. Fans of Nancy Mitford and Stella Gibbons, as well as Smith’s more famous I Capture the Castle, are advised to seek this out.