Wednesday, December 10, 2014

REVIEW: The Nancy Mitford Post - The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate
The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford.
Original Publication Year: 1945/1949
Genre(s): Fiction
Series: NA
Awards: None
Format: Print
Narrated by: NA

The Mitford family, particularly the six sisters of which Nancy is one, are quite the fascinating lot.  They were minor British aristocrats in first ¾ of the 20th century.  They remind me a bit of the Kennedy’s in America though a little earlier and perhaps even more controversial and eccentric. One became a Duchess and managed one of the stateliest of  stately homes, 2 were fascists, 1 was a communist, 1 was famous for raising poultry, several wrote books, and their love affairs were varied and numerous to say the least.  This is so you know why it is a particular selling point that many of the characters in both The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate are based on Nancy’s family and acquaintance and all are portrayed with an eye to satire.  The characters are Characters if you know what I mean.

The books are loosely tied together by the same narrator and the same cast of secondary characters.  Each focuses on the love story of a different character and they are not sequels of each other but they make nice companion stories.  The narrator (we learn in Love in a Cold Climate that her name is Fanny) is meant to be very vanilla and conventional; she’s meant to be the “normal” lens through which we observe all the more colorful and dramatic characters that surround her.  Since I’m rather vanilla and conventional myself, I actually kind of adored her with her easy going, non-judgmental practicality.  Plus she has an abundant sense of humor.  Basically I found her to be an excellent guide to the world of the Radletts and the other eccentrics littering the British aristocracy of the 1930s and 40s. 

The tone of the books is decidedly tongue in cheek and very funny and smart.  I laughed out loud numerous times.

The Pursuit of Love

The Pursuit of Love is the story of Linda Radlett’s, you guessed it, pursuit of love.  She’s the second daughter of the Radlett family and the beloved best friend and cousin to the narrator.  The story begins in their childhood as they rattle about the Radlett family home, Alconleigh, and this part of the story was highly entertaining.  The Radlett’s are wacko in the best sense of the word; quirky and full of life.  Linda’s father and the narrator’s Uncle Mathew is particularly hilarious and horrible.  Most of the characters are such that your feelings about them are mixed – they are dreadfully annoying or, well, horrible but you also can't help but feel anything more negative than an affectionate exasperation for them.

That mixed feeling for the characters was the eventual down fall for this book for me.  Linda grows up to make two very foolish matches before finally finding genuine love.  Nothing wrong with that I suppose but I never quite developed any warm feelings for Linda.  I just saw her as self-absorbed, shallow and lazy on top of being stubborn and foolish.  Without the mediating effect of affection, I just found her irritating and she reminded me of a 1930s version of Paris Hilton. The book ends on an abrupt and astonishing note which somewhat altered my feelings a bit but it didn’t quite entirely save it for me.

This isn’t to say that the book isn’t otherwise a pretty brilliant and delightful satire. Nancy Mitford is a glorious and very funny writer but in the end this particular book was just a 3 star out of 5 read for me.  ✪✪✪

Some favorite quotes:

Linda: “But I’m always saying to Christian how much I wish his buddies would either brighten up their parties a bit or else stop giving them, because I don’t see the point of sad parties, do you? And Left-wing people are always sad because they mind dreadfully about their causes and the causes are always going so badly.”

Narrator (Fanny):  Alfred and I are happy, as happy as married people can be.  We are in love, we are intellectually and physically suited in every possible way, we rejoice in each other’s company, we have no money troubles and three delightful children.  And yet, when I consider my life day by day, hour by hour, it seems to be composed of a series of pinpricks. Nannies, cooks, the endless drudgery of housekeeping, the nerve-racking noise, and boring repetitive conversation of small children (boring in the sense that it bores into one’s very brain), the absolute incapacity to amuse themselves, their sudden and terrifying illnesses, Alfred’s not infrequent bouts of moodiness, his invariable complaints at mealtime about the pudding, the way he will always use my tooth-paste and will always squeeze the tube in middle.  These are the components of marriage, the wholemeal bread of life, rough, ordinary, but sustaining; Linda had been feeding upon honey-dew, and that is an incomparable diet.   

Love in a Cold Climate

I liked this one much better than The Pursuit of Love.  We spend a little more time with and get to know Fanny, the narrator, a bit more.  I also felt a bit more sympathy for this book's focus, Polly Hampton.  Polly is another of Fanny’s friends whose love life seems particularly doomed.  I like the double meaning of the title – the lady in question has spent much of her youth in India so coming back to England to go on the marriage market is definitely a shift to a cold climate but also Polly herself is rather cold and dreary and those around her suspect she is incapable of love.  She is described thus (also giving some insight to the Radletts):

“When Lord Montdore once read us the story of the Snow Queen…I remember thinking that it must be about Polly and that she surely had a glass splinter in her heart.  For what did she love?  That was the great puzzle to me.  My cousins and I poured out love, we lavished it to right and to left, on each other, on the grown-ups, on a variety of animals, and, above all, on the characters (often historical or even fictional) with whom we were in love.  There was no reticence, and we all knew everything there was to know about each other’s feelings for every other creature, whether real or imaginary.  Then there were the shrieks. Shrieks of laughter and happiness and high spirits which always resounded through Alconleigh, except on the rare occasions there were floods. It was shrieks or floods in that house, usually shrieks.  But Polly did not pour or lavish or shriek and I never saw her in tears.  She was always the same, always charming, sweet and docile, polite, interested in what one said, rather amused by one’s jokes, but all without exuberance, without superlatives and certainly without any confidences.”

Also adding to my enjoyment was that the story overall is much less focused just on one character, and actually spent and equal amount of time with Polly's domineering and magnetic mother Lady Montdore.  It also spends a little more time with some of the other secondary characters including Fanny.  Like The Pursuit of Love it wraps up rather abruptly (I think N. Mitford may have trouble with endings) but I ended it feeling satisfied and pleasantly charmed.  It’s like spending some time with the eccentric denizens of a village in a cozy mystery but with a sharper, more satirical edge.  It avoids being bitter or negative by its narrator's affability and general indulgent affection for all these crazy characters which liven up her life.  Four out of Five stars: ✪✪✪✪

I’m glad I read these two books together as they are perfect companions.  If I had just read The Pursuit of Love I think I would have walked away somewhat indifferent to Nancy Mitford but with the addition of Love in a Cold Climate, I understand why she is well loved.  The two books separately are rather short (a smidge over 200 pages) so it is no hardship reading them together.  I was think that they would make lovely audio books, read by some droll British comedienne. 

Other opinions:  Savidge Reads (this was who turned me on to Mitford) | The Lit Bitch | Goodreads

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