Celia Fremlin

Prisoner’s Base

"..the interaction between the three women is pitch-perfect as always."


A house full of women headed by the grandmother, Margaret, her daughter, Claudia and the granddaughter, Helen. Claudia loves to take on lost causes and always invites them in to stay in her house - much to the chagrin of her mother, Margaret. Her latest acquisition is a young poet who tells stories of his seven years in prison. With the intervention of Mavis, Claudia's lost case before the young poet (who is clearly put out by this new arrival), the atmosphere in the house becomes more and more intense as the summer days slip by.

Was the new 'lost cause', Maurice, really only in prison for a robbery? Are the noises in Mavis' head real or her imagination? Why do people keep lingering about after Maurice's arrival?

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Fremlin was quoted as saying that one of her main hobbies was gossip and that is never more proven to be the case than in this tightly told little study in the art of gossip and its rippling effects and consequences. Although the story seems to centre round Margaret, it is in fact Claudia who is the catalyst for what ultimately happens at the end of the novel. This book was written in 1967 and Fremlin paints a perfect picture of these times and shows the huge chasm that had opened up between the young and the old generations during this decade. Fremlin shows Margaret's Victorian values clashing with Claudia's updated views. In turn, Claudia, trying to seek Helen's approval by trying to understand her daughter's sexual needs as a growing woman, leaves Helen, a typical teenager, revolted by her mother's constant need to try to be an 'understanding radical mother'. 'Prisoner's Base' is not one of Fremlin's strongest novels although the interaction between the three women is pitch-perfect as always. Here nobody is exactly who they say they are. In Claudia, the author has created a misguided monster of a character, who truly believes she is helping these people for the good. Unfortunately, as with most of Fremlin's novels, this is not the case.

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