Even though I am an absolute book buying MONSTER, I am also a good girl and go to my local library all the time, that is, not to take out new books to read, but just to renew and renew and renew them only to be ordered to take them back before I get the chance to pick them up! However, changes are afoot at Relish Towers and last month, a lovely plastic backed copy of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love had it’s time to shine…
This was my very first Mitford and I have to say it completely delighted me – a big chunk of Archers-style English fun. This is the story of Fanny and her vivacious cousin Linda, a domestic drama nestled between two world wars that explores, among other things, the fragility of childhood, the transient nature of our relationships and the eccentricities of Englishmen. Fanny is a sensible, self-controlled child, a little girl left by her glamorous yet capricious parents to grow up alongside her exuberant cousins at their country pile. This book is full of character; snarling, grumpy Uncle Matthew, the eccentric and entirely camp Lord Merlin and the innocent Radlett children (calling themselves ‘The Hons’) – unburdened and filled with the preoccupations of the rich and comfortable (hunting, which family to marry into…etc). Linda, the star of the story, is the greatest ‘Hon’ of them all. Wild, idealistic and ever so slightly bonkers, Fanny recounts her various bad choices in love, the climax being a Parisian fling with Duke Fabrice de Sauveterre, a relationship soon threatened by rapidly advancing German troops.
I have nothing negative to say about this book. She will hardly change your life but Mitford’s writing (the lives of these children seeming to scarily mirror her own cloistered upbringing) is hugely entertaining – and isn’t that the point of reading after all? Fanny is the perfect narrator; sensible and neutral enough in her opinions to let the others shine through. The brief period lying between the two Word Wars inevitably makes for ripe storytelling material, as the novel spans a range of rapidly changing attitudes and countries. Mitford celebrates the innocently posh and unconventional folk in life and, particularly to an English girl like myself, gives us a good chuckle here and there. Linda’s account of getting to grips with the housework is hilarious:
”Oh dear, and I wish you could have seen the Hoover running away with me, it suddenly took the bit between the teeth and made for the lift shaft. How I shrieked – Christian only just rescued me in time. I think housework is far more tiring and frightening than hunting is, no comparison, and yet after hunting we had eggs for tea and were made to rest for hours, but after housework people expect one to go on just as if nothing special had happened.’ She sighed.’ p.78
Don’t be mistaken for thinking that Mitford is all fluffiness and light. This is a family drama after all and, with that, come all the trials, tribulations and tragedies that beset our own lives – and the book is all the richer for it. All the same, I felt immensely happy in my reading, full of romanticism and imagination. This was my first Nancy Mitford and I loved it:
‘She lay back, and all was light and warmth, Life, she thought, is sometimes sad and often dull, but there are currants in the cake and here is one of them’. p. 129