Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars is as English a book as you can find. From the darling title to the story of ordinary people going to extraordinary lengths out of a sense of duty to each other and to their ideals, it is a very English book, rich in English culture and values. Yet, every character in the book is an immigrant, even the unstoppable Miss Treadway. This may be Miranda Emmerson’s first novel, but she writes with the confidence and sure-footedness of long experience.
Anna Treadway is a dresser for the fabulous American actress, Iolanthe Green, who mysteriously disappeared one night, walking back to her hotel from the theater. Anna, who moved to London from Wales, is determined to find her, believing the police are simply not doing enough. She lives above a cafe run by Ottmar, an immigrant from Turkey. She had worked at the cafe when she first came to London and Ottmar has a soft spot in his heart for her. On the part of the police, Barnaby Hayes, an immigrant from Ireland, is working harder than Anna supposes, his devotion to his work supplanting his devotion to his wife and daughter. In her investigations, Anna meets Aloysius, an immigrant from Jamaica, whose aspirations are as country-home British as they come.
I loved Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars but probably not for obvious reasons. The mystery is more a game of tag and there is an extraordinary number of people being in the same place at the same time and despite Miss Treadway and Inspector Hayes worries about “why women disappear” there is not much suspense or tension in the mystery. But then, I am not convinced that the mystery is the point of this novel at all.
Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars is about identity and belonging. It is about how people reinvent themselves. It’s no spoiler to inform you that nearly every character has two names. There’s Barnaby (Brennan), Iolanthe (Yolanda), and Aloysius (Louis) and even Miss Treadway has a surprise or two, or three. This is a story of immigrants assimilating. When the Jamaica-born Aloysius is brutalized by racist police, it does not matter than he is a “suit-wearing, tea-drinking, Financial Times and Evelyn Waugh reading man of London town.” He is black and though “the man in his head had become far whiter” that is not the man the police see.
Anna Treadway finds her own identity in question, her faith in institutions crumbling in the face of injustice. Emmerson described it as feeling as though “somehow the institutions belonged to her. She had a sense of ownership” of the social, political, legal institutions of the country. She also wrote about Anna wondering how Aloysius perceived her skin color, was it as evident to him as his was to her or did her pale complexion signify “the blankness of a slate?” The phrase “white privilege” raises so many hackles, but perhaps Emmerson’s descriptions, the sense of ownership of the kingdom’s institutions, the blankness of the slate–a slate clear of negative stereotypes in the minds of police, for example. It was heartening to see new metaphors for privilege that perhaps are more effective because they don’t trigger defensiveness so quickly.
The characters in Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars are interesting, complex, and everything that matters to the story. There’s a bit of unlikely coincidence, but it is such perfect coincidence, that I embrace it all.
Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars will be released February 27, 2017. I received an advance e-galley from the publisher through Edelweiss.