It wasn't until somewhere in the middle of my reading that I had that 'aha' moment and understood what the title of Charlotte Bingham's 1960's debut book, Coronet Among the Weeds, referred to exactly. Written when she was a mere nineteen and published when she was twenty imagine a young woman, fresh out of school, a reluctant debutante telling her life story--very tongue in cheek--and you'll get an idea of the flavor of her memoir (memoir or novel based on her life experiences I wonder?). Conceived as a comedy and encouraged by her parents who were professional writers, Charlotte's narrative is as quirky and of the moment as you can imagine.
The coronet is, I imagine, the crown she must have worn when presented as a Deb, and the weeds? I had never heard the word in this context, but think 1960s British slang, pair that with a young woman who begins her memoir saying she has yet to find her superman. Weeds are the young men of her set. I don't know--dudes, maybe? But she uses the words 'weeds' consistently throughout the book (as well as a few other choice terms). There are a number of slangy references which gives the storytelling very much a feeling of verisimilitude. I imagine Charlotte as being quite hip in her way, even as she writes with a note of self-deprecation and the sense she is maybe even a little square-ish. But as a young woman of the times she knows what's what.
Coronet Among the Weeds is not exactly your typical coming of age memoir. Much like any teenager she flits from topic to topic but she focuses mostly on her social life--the time she spent in Paris after finishing school, becoming a Beatnik and not exactly feeling quite a success and then trying her hand at being a Deb, which she swore she would never do, and not quit fitting into that milieu either. Lots of socializing and looking for her superman. And then trying to find work and her place in the world without really having the right skills for anything really.
London of the Swinging Sixties is the era and I can place her almost firmly there. Picture one of those semi-faded technicolor films with a hip (or almost since she was painfully pear shaped when she would have preferred to be a model) young woman and the youthful language to match. If it was a film the heroine would be narrating her story while the scenes played out in front of our eyes with just the right music. It would all be very chatty and airy and informal as if she was telling you her story, or rather stories. I was only surprised at times when I'd get a peek at her more conservative side. She may be of the era but she was also from a 'good' (read that as private schools, successful inquisitive and supportive parents with an illustrious family history) family. Maybe conservative is not exactly the right word, maybe traditional?
If there is meant to be any resolution at the end, it does not come. No superman, at least not yet, but a plucky and optimistic young woman with the world at her feet and a massively successful and enviable first book under her belt complete with positive press reviews. Not too shabby for someone barely out of her teens. Charlotte Bingham goes on to write a further two memoirs (the last only recently published) as well as quite a few novels. If you don't know her books, you might well know her as one of the screenwriters for some of the early episodes of hugely successful Upstairs, Downstairs TV series.
Eventually I will pick up her other memoirs (it is the recently published MI5 and Me: A Coronet Among the Spooks that first pointed me in the direction of her earlier books), but I think these are books (at least the first two) are best spread out rather than back to back. I think Coronet Among the Weeds came around at just the right time and reflected the sensibilities of the moment. It caught the right wave and she literally sailed it to high success as it prompted media tours and even a TV series, which I am most curious about now. But the world is a different place now. I think I need a little palate cleanser, a change of pace, before dipping back into the world of Debs, weeds, and beatniks.