Friday, March 8, 2013

Book Review - Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
Published by: Vintage
Publication Date: August 10th, 2010
Format: Paperback, 240 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Fanny's mother is known throughout the family as "The Bolter." Leaving your child behind to be raised by your siblings isn't that odd in a family that uses children instead of foxes in hunts, has their own distinct argot, and lives in such an old house that only one closet has the warmth to be bearable. It is in this "Hons" closet that Fanny and her cousin Linda spend all their time dreaming of true love. Because love is what life is all about. As they grow up their thoughts turn less from the fantasy of marrying the Prince of Wales and more towards any decent chap that can be lured to Alconleigh for their debut ball. Linda, growing up at Alconleigh has not had the luxury of an education that Fanny has living with their Aunt Emily. Linda therefore is so desperate to fall in love that she mistakenly falls for the first man who comes along. The wrong man.

While Fanny happily settles down with an Oxford don and starts having babies, Linda's marriage to Tony Kroesig is a sham. They have one daughter whom Linda can't stand, but she keeps up the pretense of happy families, until one day she throws off her Facist husband for Communist Christian. Yet again Linda has misstepped, thinking that she is in love once more, when really she is just in love with being away from Tony. Always wanting so desperately to be in love, Linda mistakes any male attention for the real deal. Could she be turning into Fanny's mother, The Bolter? Or will her desperate search for love pay off in the most oddest of ways?

I remember one winter day when I first picked up the Vintage omnibus of The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate. The selling point to me was the big silver sticker they had put on the cover for Masterpiece Theatre. I covet those PBS tie-in editions of yore and here was a brand new one waiting for me to buy it. I have mentioned this before, but I am the book dork who must always read a book before watching the show, so I set to reading this before the miniseries was to air. This was a hard time in my life, I had just temporarily dropped out of college because of multiple deaths in the family and I took solace in this little escape. While I enjoyed the book, I was really looking forward to watching the miniseries more than anything. Of course, nothing goes to plan.

My main problem was I was living with my family and we had only two tvs. This was to air on a Monday night, which meant one of the tvs was designated for my little brother watching Monday night wrestling, which meant I had to negotiate for the second tv with my mother. My mother agreed to watch it, so long as it was good. She lasted less then five minutes before she claimed boredom and changed the channel. I was so fed up with everyone else getting what they wanted when all I wanted to do was watch one episode of Masterpiece Theatre that I went into my room and cried. I had waited months and my mom had let me have five minutes, a trait that more or less continues to this day. I had to wait more than four years to finally see the series... so, logically enough, my memory of the book has faded because of the incident that followed.

Therefore when finally getting around to planning Mitford March for my blog, I was excited for the re-read. I remembered very little in the years that followed my initial reading, many of my memories where tied up in the aforementioned incident and in the second volume of the book, more on that later, so I was pleasantly surprised by what I had forgotten and what I had remembered. The odd thing about this book is, truthfully, there really isn't a plot. Instead it is about the yearning and desire for love and how that can go unexpectedly right and horribly wrong. Of all the love stories told, the two that I enjoy the most is Jassy's and Linda's final love. Jassy, Linda's younger sister, has spent her entire life saving up money to run away, finally she does so in order to go to Hollywood and court an actor she has fallen for, who played a background artist in a pirate movie. The media sensation that follows is almost more entertaining then the end of the courtship, with her father viewing the reporters trying to sneak into his house as the first real and formidable enemies since he killed Germans with his entrenching tool in The Great War. While Linda's love of Fabrice is so unexpected when they meet at the train station as she is leaving her second husband, it is their banter and their easy natural conversation that makes you realize that it's not the money and it's not the looks, it's how you click that matters. Linda and I learned that love can be found in the most unexpected of places.

Yet, what I found most interesting about this book is how it was a mirror for the Mitfords themselves. The first time I read this book I knew about them in the vaguest of terms. Sisters, writers, one or two hung out with Hitler, whatever, it wasn't of concern to me, this was fiction. But as Nancy's sister Jessica points out in the introduction "we all know [Nancy's] got no imagination" because "there we were, larger than life, Mitfords renamed Radletts, reliving our childhoods as seen through Nancy's strange triangular green eyes." And the more you know about the Mitfords the funnier the book is. Nancy lampooning herself and her family. Jessica running off to Spain with a communist is both Linda and her little brother's fate. Up and leaving your husband, just like Diana did. Nancy's affair with a Frenchman. The families love of animals, their weird language all their own. This book is the Mitfords as seen through a slightly wobbly magnifying lens, and I love the book for this more then any other reason!


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