A few weeks ago, I was browsing through the available titles on NetGalley and I came across Anita Miller's memoirs of her time spent in London during the 1960's. At the moment, I'm taking a memoir writing class and with my husband being British, I thought this would be a great fit for me. I was ecstatic when the Chicago Review Press accepted my request for an advanced copy of Miller's Tea and Antipathy.
Anita Miller and her husband, Jordan are shameless Anglophiles and when they have the opportunity to move their family to London for a summer, they eagerly jump at the chance. Riding high on their previous experience as tourists in England, they are certain that this summer will be a dream come true.
Jordan secures a rental house in a posh neighborhood in London and the family moves in with their three children. As Jordan and their eldest son go to work, Anita finds herself struggling. The two younger children are bored and they quickly run out of tourist places to visit. The family finds it hard to make friends in England and to adjust to the many cultural differences. They quickly find that many people do not like them simply because they are American. Much of the book is dedicated to pointing out the misconceptions that the Miller's have towards the English and that the English have towards Americans. Anita, with a degree in English Literature, quickly discovers that England is not as she imagined it from novels.
The Millers encounter a rather hostile and quirky bunch of characters. The worst of the bunch is their landlady, who pretends to be heading to Scotland for the summer, but really stays in town to spy on her new tenants. The high rent house that they have leased is absolutely falling to pieces and the landlady is never reachable when they have a problem. On top of everything, she is so miserly that she has hidden most of her linens and has removed pieces of furniture from the house. She even told them that the washing machine was broken, only later to confess that it was brand-new, she just didn't want them to use it.
I had a mixed reaction to Tea and Antipathy. Having spent several extended vacations in England, I can relate to Miller's findings on many of the cultural differences. Like Miller, I always had an idealized version of England in my head and I was surprised to find so many differences. I've never felt more American in my life!
I thought much of what Miller wrote was very funny, in particular with regard to her housing problems. However, I felt that Miller started to slide into the negative, especially during the second half of her story. I realize that she was very miserable, but it turned into a long rant. It became hard to believe that everyone she seemed to encounter hated Americans or were so eccentric. I needed more balance in the story to keep interested and to feel sympathy towards Miller. It ended up being like that friend who just complains too much and you stop wanting to have lunch with them.
I wished that there was more about how London was in the 60's. There is a wonderful moment in the book where Anita and Jordan are out to dinner and the Beatles are at the next table. Jordan makes a call to their children and gives the kids permission to come to the restaurant to see their idols. What cool parents! I wish the story had more moments like that and less negative sentiments.
Overall, this short memoir kept me reading, primarily because I could relate to Miller's emotions over being an American in a foreign country.