This is another post I wrote a while back but as I haven’t posted for a while I need to update it and I’ve just been so busy that I haven’t had the chance to finish a book, let alone write a blog. A friend of mine recently reminded me of Nancy Mitford so I looked up this post and here you go:
After I’d finished Deborah Devonshire’s memoir, I thought it might be interesting to actually read some of her sister Nancy Mitford’s novels. I didn’t expect them to be this good or this funny. I think that they might actually be some of the best novels I’ve read in a while. The three novels were collected in an omnibus edition and they go together well. They are all set in the interwar period, in the world of debutantes, dukes and affairs. The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate are both narrated by the same person, a young woman named Fanny, whose aristocratic parents are uninterested in her and so she grows up with her aunts and cousins. Fanny herself is a shadowy character. It is obvious that she is there as a narrative means. Every so often she divulges something about herself (she was a debutante; she married a professor; her house has this sofa). Furthermore, she narrates scenes set in Paris and southern France with such certainty that, although she explains her knowledge with detailed letters, Fanny remains a thinly disguised stylistic means. As for the main characters – they really deserve to be in the centre because they are fascinating.
The Pursuit of Love is about Fanny’s first cousin Linda. The girls are very close friends and are debutantes together. Linda marries a stuck-up banker’s son which completely contrasts her own upbringing as an aristocrat’s daughter. To me, as a middle-class girl, it seemed that rich people would all think similarly and such a difference between aristocracy and the nouveau riche, as I suppose one would have to describe Linda’s husband, never occurred to me. I don’t want to give much away. The novel is short and easy to read and is excellent partly because of its style and wit and also because of its twists. The end is surprising but, somehow, inevitable. Having thought about it again there really is no other way the book could have ended.
Love in a Cold Climate is about Linda’s neighbour, Polly (or Leopoldina) Montdore. The main focus here is the lack of Polly’s love life following her time as a debutante. Fanyn has moved to Oxford with her husband and narrates the story from there. Eventually Polly marries a most surprising candidate, who was never really a candidate before. It seems strange to say that nothing really happens until then; however, somehow it seems as if there are so many things happening that the reader can hardly keep up. Although Love in a Cold Climate is more critically acclaimed, I think I preferred The Pursuit of Love because it is a novel of extremes: funny, shocking, sad.
The Blessing was, I thought, the most comical and satirical but also the most frustrating novel of the three. Every so often I come across a character whom I would like to strangle. Emma Woodhouse is one. Sigismond de Valhubert is another. He is the blessing referred to in the title; more specifically he is the oldest son of Grace (an English rose, an only daughter) and Charles-Edouard (a Frenchman whom Grace marries whilst her fiancee, Hughie, is away on a tour of duty somewhere during the Second World War). For a while the couple are very happy. Sigi is born while his father is fighting in the war. After the war Charles-Edouard (a sign of his ‘poshness’ and sophistication – he has no nickname. And he is never just Charles) takes Grace, Sigi and Nanny to France. Grace loves the country house she stays in but Charles-Edouard prefers Paris (because that’s where his mistresses are…) and so they move there. Grace is presented as naïve and gullible; she doesn’t suspect Charles-Edouard of having mistresses, because he apparently loves her so much. Now, in Charles-Edouard’s mind these things are perfectly compatible. He loves his wife, therefore he has mistresses. Right. By this time Sigi is about eight and already a pain. Eventually Grace catches Charles-Edouard and mistress two in flagranti and moves back to Britain. Sigi goes with her and, manipulative sod, manages to thrwart his father’s attempts to contact Grace. Eventually Sigi goes to live with his father and enjoys an immense hold over him. Grace’s ex-fiancee Hughie, who is in love with one of Charles-Edouard’s mistresses, turns up as well to make things easier for Sigi to continue to obstruct his parents’ reconciliation.
SPOILER!!!!! Thank goodness the sod gets his comeuppance.SPOILER END!!!