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4.3 out of 5 stars60
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 27 October 2004
A clever book I read in one sitting. What makes the diary of an "Ordinary" woman so compulsive? The diarist, Millicent King, is an engaging character with a surprisingly modern mindset who sometimes makes what must have been considered racy life choices - she is a woman well ahead of her time.

No passive product of a Victorian upbringing - she is an intelligent, fiesty and determindly independent person and following her life gives us an intriging insight into how her generation coped with the awful tragedy of two world wars. Although I was often moved to tears, her diary entries are also highly amusing - Millicent often being as opinionated and judgemental as a spoiled child.

The other characters are just as strong and interesting and you long to know more of them. Can't say more than this without giving plot details away.

Like other reviewers, I ignored the words "A Novel" on the front cover - you can't and don't want to believe this is fiction.
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on 6 October 2003
What a rollercoaster of a day! I finished this book this morning and spent the next few hours grieving - both for the death of this remarkable woman and for the book/diary ending. I had so enjoyed 'knowing' Millicent and felt quite cut adrift to have 'lost' her. I admit it - I had NO idea that the diaries weren't real! I searched the internet to find out more about this amazing woman and her family, only to find that she is a fictional character! Of course seems obvious now - I just hadn't noticed the references to fiction on the book cover. This is a great book - the emotional ambiguities and twists & turns of Millicent's life were, for me, devastatingly real, making this an intense and powerfully engaging reading experience. Inspires reflection on past and present connections with my own mother, my grandmothers, great aunts etc, and a sharp (and uncomfortable) awareness of the ease with which we can, in our relative youth, disregard/dismiss their knowledge, perspective, experience and insight (as did the twins - Connie and Toby - to Millicent).
The rest of my day will be spent adjusting to the fact that there is no Millicent King!!
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on 26 March 2003
Margaret Forster is definitely one of my favourite authors. Everything she writes is clever and thought-provoking, yet different from what has gone before. With this book she's achieved another success and I recommend it highly. The diary format follows the life of "an ordinary woman" through most of the 20th century, and how cleverly the style changes to reflect age and experience! On the face of it you might think the life of a woman who never married and had no children or successful career would be dull. Far from it - Millicent King faces life bravely, survives many tragedies, comes up trumps when it matters - and along the way you find yourself identifying with her and understanding her generation better than you did before.
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on 7 November 2003
I can never resist reading any book by Margaret Forster. I loved this book about the fictional character Millicent King. I couldn't put it down! It was so real it has been hard to accept that it is in fact a novel. But of course the story is that of a thousand women who lived through two world wars and whose lives have spanned the century.
Millicent King's life related to that of my mother and grandmothers, to my aunts and uncles and cousins - to all who lived through war and suffered the consequences.
I think that Margaret Forster is a brilliant author and may she continue to write on and on ....
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on 24 July 2003
I relished every sentence of Diary of an Ordinary Woman. The clarity and honesty of Millicent Kings' diary entries are engaging and, at times, very moving. For a modern day woman, Millicent's diaries, which span practically the entire twentieth century, provide a context in which the minutae of our own 'ordinary' lives can be evaluated. An excellent and compelling read.
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on 16 August 2010
Forster's research has paid off. It makes this novel feel alive. References, such as, to Mrs. Dalloway being a new book make the diary entries feel topical. However, some entries feel rather contrived.

This book was very funny in parts e.g. ,"15 January 1915 - When Mother told me something nice was going to happen soon I thought she meant that we were at last to have a dog, but it was twins."

There are some very moving moments as well, such as when Millicent, in her eighties, is part of the human chain around Greenham in 1982.

The book is well structured. Through the diary entries, which are interspersed with commentary in italics, Millicent comes alive. She is not a celebrity. She is an ordinary woman who records part of her life for the Mass Observation Project, as many ordinary people did. And ,like the Nella Lasts of this world, Millicent King is no ordinary woman, which is exactly Forster's point!

Written in Forster's inimitable style, this novel is a compelling read for those who are curious about seeing ordinary people's lives recorded contemporaneously.
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on 15 May 2008
I read this book while travelling on the trains and was just captured by the attention to detail and by the narrater's talent for recording - yes, this book is a diary and what a witty acount you get. I found it hard not to think about the accounts in the book and how I sympathised with the main protagonist - you'll absolutely love it. A well deserved five stars.
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on 9 February 2012
By the time I got about half way through this I started to suspect that Forster might be about to do a Memoirs of a Geisha and I was spot on. I should have noted this book is categorised as fiction...

Despite finding Millicent a rather unpleasant pretentious child, who thought more of herself and her abilities than anyone around her, I thought that the transition of the character into womanhood, albeit a cold young woman, was done very well. However, there were many parts of the book that just didn't feel right. In many respects her life was too good to be true: her class and her independent wealth were too convenient. Forster seemed to avoid the challenge of writing a truely ordinary woman's life and instead settled for a rather priveleged life, nestled in the environs of Primrose Hill.

The first major relationships of Millicent's life run in paralell, one of platonic love and the other of loveless passion. However, many women of the age would have had to be far more pragmatic in order to leave the family home. I found it deeply frustrating after the final 'reveal' that the tool Forster uses to skip the really difficult emotional bits of Millicent's life - having her character not record these events in her diary because she's so traumatised. I think it was meant to work as a plot device but it felt lazy to me. I'd also question whether it's at all feasible that a single woman working as a social worker in 30s London having an affair with her married senior wouldn't have been sacked or moved to another authority, rather than just raising a few eyebrows. Life wasn't that permissable. Millicent is portrayed as upper middle class, but she didn't have the freedom of the aristocracy. Women had barely just got the vote and sexual liberation was another World War and 40 years away.

I also felt that using the war to create an unexplained back story for Grace, was a cheap subplot, and the author's 'commentary' which confirmed that Millicent never got to the bottom of this left me feeling cheated. I know that a realistic first person narrative should have holes in it, but it didn't work for me and Greenham Common Connie didn't even resemble a real person, but a sketch of opinions and preconceived ideas in need of a good edit.

This book marketed itself as the story of an 'ordinary' woman, but it's not ordinary at all, and that's not to reject the oft true cliche that all of us leading humdrum lives are fascinating in our own way: this story simply wasn't credible. There was too much Tragedy and grand coincidence lacing the fictionalised missing diary entries together. All of the men Millicent care for go to war and have the most horrendous experiences, either dying or suffering terribly. Such events have been shoehorned into the diaries as historical reference points for her life passing, but it wasn't at all subtle. I think that in contrast most 'ordinary' lives are peppered with small, unexceptional tragedies.
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on 18 March 2004
This is the collective story of so many woman of this generation. Ms Foster has captured the complexity of the social situations of this era perfectly. Anyone having older friends and relatives who lived through this era will see the definite ring of truth in it. What a terrible shame that people could feel so deeply but had to preserve the 'stiff upper lip' at all times. I can see my mother, my grandmother and aunts in this woman. Dont be put off by reviewers such as Dain1 - he/she probably has no acquaintances or knowledge of this era. Read it yourself and see....
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on 3 April 2003
What an amazing book....only very rarely do I come across a book that I don't want to end - and this is one; and it must because it tells the story of someone's life. Even though the world has changed a great deal since the events described in the book took place, her feelings as she tells her tale transcend the passing of time. I had to keep reminding myself that it isn't a REAL diary, that's how convincing it is. ....
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