Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Love In a Cold Climate

by Nancy Mitford

The sequel to The Pursuit of Love, this book has Fanny (married to a husband who may as well not exist, for the purposes of the book) watching in amazement as Polly, the great beauty of the season and daughter of the socially-conscious and fabulously wealthy Lady Montdore, refuses all suitors until finally claiming a husband amid such scandal she is disinherited.  Enter Cedric, a fabulously outrĂ© homosexual, who now stands to inherit all, and who becomes fast friends with Lady Montdore, introducing her to all manner of self-improvement and Continental ideas about fashion.

As amusing as the first book was, this sequel is easily its superior; the officious, deluded, condescending Lady Montdore and the larger than life, colorful Cedric are both brilliant characters: unforgettable, unpredictable, hilarious, and strangely alluring despite their flaws.  The humor here is also less subdued, less sly than in the previous book: Lady Montdore sniffs that hardly anyone had heard of India until her cipher of a husband served as secretary there; Uncle Matthew comes upon Cedric in a shop and is so overcome with rage at his coat with contrasting colored piping that he begins shaking him, like a dog with a rat.  Mitford somehow makes all her characters, no matter how outlandish, also sympathetic, this is true even of the nasty Boy Dougdale, who is some sort of sexual predator and pedophile and ends up in a miserable, loveless marriage.  Everyone dismisses Boy’s groping of the underage Radlett sisters with a shudder and a shrug, as merely a breach in manners rather than a loathsome crime.  Well, it was a different age.

five stars

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Pursuit Of Love

by Nancy Mitford

A roman a clef, this book begins by describing the odd upbringing of the author's prominent family, here called the Radletts.  Six daughters grow up under the eccentric reign of their father (called "Uncle Matthew" by the narrator, cousin Fanny, who has come to live with them), who rages against foreigners and suitors, forms hatreds or admirations for others on a whim, and refuses to send his children to school.  In the style of the time, the daughters go to balls and are presented as "out," whereupon they marry.  One daughter, Linda, marries the son of a prominent banking family, but fails to find love with him or her next husband, a Communist activist.

Mitford details the ensuing scandals and the worries with subtle wit, balancing an almost-mocking, self-deprecating tone with the emotional tragedy of Linda’s tale.  The book is a deft satire of the upper classes, and has quite a few very funny scenes, such as when Fanny comes to visit Linda’s ugly baby, which the mother feel nothing for ("Pour soul," she says when it cries, "I think it must have caught sight of itself in a glass"). 

four stars

[followed by Love In a Cold Climate