Earlier this year I was at my local Chapters looking for a new read to add to my bookshelf (hence this going into my bookshelf series posts) and came across the book Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk, by author Kathleen Rooney.
For those wondering how often I read books, the answer is: pretty often. The only thing I’m notorious for doing, is starting a book and then getting caught up in reading articles and writing content that I leave the book in the same spot on the shelf for a while. So when I say that “earlier this year” I picked up Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk, I’m pretty much referring to February…and I sadly only finished the book in the middle of May.
I Took A Walk With Lillian Boxfish
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk is a fantastic book which I just wanted to sit and continuously read until I finished. Obviously this didn’t happen, but I wish I did have the time to do that. The story is narrated by Lillian Boxfish as she takes a walk throughout New York City on New Year’s Eve in 1894. At first, I was wondering how this story would be exciting–after all, she is just walking through New York City for a few hours. I was curious to see how a character’s flanerie, could be ample for depth and value in a book.
I was pleasantly surprised when I started following Lillian on her walk. When Lillian walks through New York, she meets new people in her present day life, but it often triggers memories of her past. Without giving too much away, Lillian Boxfish has a very unique and interesting past which explores the rise of advertising in New York, specifically Macy’s, dealing with family quarrels, and the exploration of therapy for mental illnesses. The memories from Lillian’s past are what gives her character depth and allows for reflection and learning in the story.
Who Is Lillian Boxfish?
Lillian Boxfish had a claim to fame in the 1930’s as the best ad writer at Macy’s. Yes, as in the Macy’s Americans know and love (and us Canadians wish we had)
I personally loved the added touches of copywriting and advertising in the novel because it felt as though I was sitting there reading early advertising copy, living in NYC. Beyond her clever advertising, Lillian is a quick witted individual and sharp in conversing with others–whether they are coworkers, family, or strangers on the street. During her New Year’s Eve walk, Lillian engages with people from all walks of life. Many of them consider her to be “just another old lady” until they discover her charm and likability. Although Lillian does not tell her personal stories to every person she meets, it is those strangers who evoke the memories which are then narrated to the reader.
As a writer and a graduate of an English program, I felt that Lillian was a relatable character for those in creative industries. Her ability to read others, her connection to the world around her and her quick banter makes Lillian seem as though she’s just another city woman, carving her way. Nothing about the character comes off as pompous or over the top, and she can effectively highlight how the world has changed and what people value most.
Mental Illness Is a Regular Discussion
What also made Lillian likeable, was her frank and open discussions about her mental illness. Nowhere in the book does Lillian explicitly tell readers what mental illness she suffers from, but it is evident that she’s had a nervous breakdown and perhaps struggles with depression. Courageous and ever feisty , Lillian does not let her mental illnesses get in the way as she continues to connect with her friends, remaining family members and of course, the colourful world around her. The way she interacts with the world gives hope to those readers who also suffer from mental illnesses. While everything may not be great in Lillian’s world, she does make the best of it and learns to carry on with what life has given her.
Author Kathleen Rooney and the Inspiration for Lillian Boxfish
Aside from an incredible plotline and character traits, I have to give a giant round of applause to Kathleen Rooney (@KathleenMRooney on Twitter) for writing such an intriguing and well constructed story. I had to pause and re-read so many lines in the book because they were written so carefully and beautifully. It is as if Kathleen wrote the book after sitting and chatting with Lillian…if only Lillian was real! In the back of the book there is, however, a little note that Kathleen leaves reader. In the notes, she says she drew a lot of inspiration for Lillian Boxfish from advertiser Margaret Fishback, who was a female advertising copywriter back in the 1930’s for R.H Macy’s.
I also want to add that the cover is simple yet intriguing (it’s part of the reason I picked up the book in the first place). The team at St. Martin’s Press has done a great job in bringing Kathleen’s work to life in an appealing shell.
Take a Walk With Lillian Boxfish
I highly recommend reading Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk if you want a well-rounded and charming perspective of daily life. It’s like wandering New York City with an older, much wiser and experienced friend who can compare the days of the past to those of the present.
I found my copy at my local Chapters, but the book is also available to order off Amazon. Let me know what you think about Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. Have you read it? Are you going to add it to your reading list? I think the book is great for bookclubs because of its diversity. There is something in Lillian Boxfish for everyone!