Friday, March 15, 2013

Book Review - Nancy Mitford's Don't Tell Alfred

Don't Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford
Published by: Vintage
Publication Date: August 10th, 2010
Format: Paperback, 240 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Fanny's life is being turned upside down. She has spent a quiet life in Oxford with her husband, raising her boys. They are now gone from home, two out of school and two at Eton. What is Fanny to do? Settle into middle age and just wait for death? Sounds fine to her. Then she receives a shocking blow, her husband has been named Ambassador to France, making her Ambassadress. They are to uproot their lives and start hosting cocktail parties and dealing with foreign crises in a large mansion in France. Never before has Fanny had to personally deal with family problems being fodder for the gutter press. Nor did she think that the former Ambassadress secretly living in the Embassy would threaten Alfred's tenure as the new Ambassador. Such little things, like her sons showing up unexpectedly, or her mother remarrying, become not little incidents to be dealt with, but calamities to hide from their dinner guests. Fanny is sure she shall fail, and miserably. Luckily she does have some people on her side, and the ace up her sleeve is her father figure Davey. When in doubt, get Davey. He can do anything, even smoke out former Ambassadresses from the woodwork!

I remember being on Lauren Willig's blog one day and she was talking about heading out to Paris on a research trip and how that had inspired a need to re-read Nancy Mitford's Don't Tell Alfred. At this time I had already read The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, being the two books of Nancy's that you could actually get stateside, so I was interested in this book of hers I'd not heard of. So I went to Wikipedia and looked it up. Where I read "it is the third in a trilogy centered around an upper-class English family, and takes place twenty years after the events of The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate." I instantly went WHAT!?! (But say it in your head as David Walliams does it so well on Little Britain playing Sebastian, the PM's assistant, WOT!?!) So many thoughts went through my head, mainly, wait, there's a third book followed closely by, but I have an omnibus, omnibuses aren't supposed to leave out books in the series. Then very quickly, "I MUST FIND THIS BOOK!" superseded all other thoughts. Luckily it was around the time of Deborah's 90th birthday when the publishing Gods decided to re-release Nancy's back catalog, so finding the book proved a lot easier then I thought it would, you can't say the same for Highland Fling, Christmas Pudding or Pigeon Pie. Of course I had to find time to re-read the first two first... which proved rather difficult... until now!

And oh, how I wanted to love it, or even like it, but seriously... it was horrid. I can see why the critics ripped it to shreds. In fact, because of critics, she never wrote fiction again. Personally, if you where going just by this volume, I am with the critics, I would have been begging Nancy to forever put down the pen. My main gripe? Well, seeing as this is a gaggle of characters that are not only known and loved but revered by some, I wanted them to stay IN CHARACTER. I mean, it's like everyone had a full frontal lobotamy and personality transplant. Uncle Matthew loving cocktail parties and he WILLINGLY went to France!?! This was the man who refused to eat under any roof but his own and hated foreigners. The entrenching tool being his weapon of choice against them, not witty dialogue... thankfully Nancy doesn't push it THAT far, seeing as he only goes to the cocktail parties for the food. Also, Aunt Sadie, her and Matthew were insperable, and here they are, sperated. Alfred actually leaving his cloistered life as an Oxford don to be an Ambassador? No. And then there's Fanny. I don't know what happened to the down to earth Fanny who had her life together, but obviously, she's gone, replaced with a twit who cares more about clothes and bungling parties then anything else. Also blithly killing people off in assides and not telling us why in most cases, goodbye Aunt Emily, Lady Montdore, Lord Montdore, two of Matthew's three boys... I'm sure there are more, but I can't think through all the eliptical carnage.

Besides changing every personality trait of the characters I loved, Nancy added too many new characters I couldn't care about at all, let alone distinguish one from the other. There where lots of French people, lots of non French people. The only person I kind of liked was her cousin Lousia's daughter Northey, who was basically Linda mac two, though Scottish. She even had Linda's badger obsession. If they ever decide to make this into a movie, if they don't case Karen Gillan from Doctor Who as Northey it will be the biggest wasted opportunity ever. On top of the lack of who all these characters are, the writing is confusing so that you never know who is talking. There can be pages and pages of dialogue, with no attribution, no "Fanny said" no "Northey said" no nothing. And you know what? The dialogue was so boring, I didn't even bother trying to figure out who said what. Yes Nancy, you bored me.

Yet what was the biggest bore and drain? Politics! I'm guessing the two main things that where being debated in the book was some rocks/islands and the forming of a European Army... someone else who has read this I would love confirmation as to this being the case. Politics in general bore me, made up French politics put me into a coma. I'm sorry Nancy, just because you where in love with a Frenchman who worked for de Gaulle, doesn't mean that instantly all his boring politics and life become interesting to the rest of us. Plus, it was more you in love with him and his world, he really couldn't care about you... so, why did you torture us with this book? Really!?! It was like you where purposefully destroying all the lovely memories I have of the previous two volumes. It no longer surprises me why this was out of print.


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