Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Nancy Mitford

I can't remember how I was first introduced to the work of Nancy Mitford, but I must say: I'm glad I was. 

Reading The Pursuit of Love was a real pleasure. Mitford wields her story - of the mid-century English aristocracy - with the touch of a master. Her characters are engaging and quirky; her narration nuanced and fair. 

For me, there was a hint of Waugh in The Pursuit of Love - which makes sense given their social and literary associations. Both authors gravitated to the upper classes, portraying them as sometimes stuffy and inane, but worthy - somehow, someway - of redemption. The criticism here is offered without malice. 

And that's what I came to appreciate most, I think, about Pursuit: Mitford exposes all that accumulated hypocrisy and pretense, but she does so without bullying, without a heavy hand. Her characters operate in rarified air, but we as readers breathe with them, and cheer them - against our better judgement - along the way. 

My only critique of Pursuit is the odd suggestion that Mitford might actually have reached for more. I had the sense (and this may just be me) that Mitford didn't quite believe in the book, especially at the start. It was as if the novel started as a Waugh-like comedy, but later transformed into something more serious, more artful. That transformation was a subtle one, and I wish that Mitford had extended it a bit further, into new and unexplored territory. For me, the novel came to a somewhat rushed halt, and I had the sense - quite to Mitford's credit - that we were only getting started. 

Still, The Pursuit of Love is lively, perceptive book, one I'd certainly suggest. The last word is reserved for Mitford:

"...She was in the mood either to take up some cause, or to embark upon a love affair." Welcome to the world of Linda Radlett. 


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