Friday, 31 October 2014

Book #40 The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling

In Robert Galbraith's debut novel, supermodel Lula Landry falls from a balcony, her death is ruled a suicide and the world moves on, but not everyone agrees that this is what happened that fateful night.

Robert Galbraith got away with his Super Secret Pseudonym for all of 5 seconds before being exposed as the publishing sensation JK Rowling who was apparently gutted by it. Far better for this to be judged as a crime debut than as the ninth novel of an established author, because if it is to be judged by critics as a first novel, and it is a first foray into a specific genre, it usually gets a far kinder reception in the reviews.

I'm not really one for detective fiction, I find the patterns too predictable for one thing, so initially I was quite pleased to see that up front it is established that the young female sidekick to the old curmudgeonly private eye has just got engaged and it was the greatest moment of her life.

A-ha! I thought she's steering clear of the unresolved sexual tension, of the "possibility of more" she's trying to write something without the obvious cliches, alas it didn't last with Cormoran Strike and the literal Robin to his Batman each noticing hitherto unrecognised qualities in each other, which one presumes, will continue throughout the series.

I would really find it refreshing to have a series in which colleagues of the opposite sex didn't have to have this and instead could have the kind of purely intellectual 'romance' and deep personal esteem often gifted to two male characters but never it seems to women without their sexuality becoming involved.

Can we just talk about his name for a moment "Cormoran Strike" ? It sounds like the name of a police Operation against game poaching or a US military attack that went wrong and hit a peasant village in Fallujah. It's like she generated it with an app.

The celebrity angle is cliched from the gay black designer to the caricature of Pete Doherty, so too is Strike's link to that world. It feels slightly satirical, mocking and inauthentic.

The most cringeworthy aspect is when characters who are "lower class" or "common" enter the scene and are written phonetically or in slang to highlight how common they are. It's patronising and almost prejudiced. Oh, a black person with mental health issues, they speak like THIS.

The climax/big reveal of the culprit is done in that ranting "didn't you?....DIDN'T YOU?" style that has graced TV drama throughout the decades but the reveal creates a behaviour paradox the size of a black hole that isn't resolved and makes no sense.

I fear saying this because I think there is no way of saying it without sounding like the worst of snobs; but this novel just feels really mainstream, pitched at Mr and Mrs Average Reader, Middle England.
I mean, it's an OK book it's not amazing, it's not awful, it just feels like it belongs on the Richard And Judy List.  If you want books about a private detective Kate Atkinson's Jackson Brodie series is far superior.


Monday, 27 October 2014

Book #39 Love From Nancy : The Letters Of Nancy Mitford ed. Charlotte Mosley

Love From Nancy

Nancy Mitford began planning her memoirs around the time she became ill, and subsequently died without writing them and instead her friend Harold Acton wrote a biography. Later, her sister Diana's daughter in law Charlotte edited a collection of her letters. She is also the editor behind all the Mitfords letters to each other and of Debo's correspondence with Paddy Leigh Fermor.

I guess the reason for this was that if anyone was going to make money out of the intense interest in the sisters well it may as well be the family themselves, and there's something fair about that I think; though an early footnote implies that this new development considerably annoyed Acton who withheld his letters and may not have had the same level of access as Charlotte.

Her foreword tells us that she removed sections from six letters on the basis that they could be considered libelous and that Debo, who was the executor of Nancy's estate, asked her to remove sections from a further six because they were excessively spiteful about persons still living and could cause embarrassment. Having read that it struck me that the 12 most interesting letters she ever wrote aren't really in it! 

Nancy is a terrific snob and a bit of a bitch, reacting like the Dowager Countess of Grantham might when a LOWER CLASS man sits next to her in a restaurant. Her most interesting letters are to or about Evelyn Waugh who comes across as a very eccentric character with a great capacity to offend or become offended. Randolph Churchill and Duff Cooper also come across as great characters I would like to know more about. Randolph particularly seems thoroughly awful.

I've read two Waugh novels 'Brideshead Revisited' and 'A Handful Of Dust' and took to neither but this has persuaded me to keep trying.

In some ways Nancy's life was tragic. Her first engagement and then her marriage were both disasters, she was infertile, and she was in love with a philandering Colonel, Gaston Palewski who never fully committed to their relationship. In her letters to him, her unguarded desperation for him to love her the way she loved him comes across profusely. In that I empathised.

It was heartbreaking too, that whilst Diana and Debo lived quite long lives, both living into their 90s, Nancy died in her 60s but oddly lived to experience most of her best friends & contemporaries "going first" dropping like flies around her over a three year period, the death of Evelyn Waugh shaking her particularly. As they passed she crossed each out in her address book writing the date of their death next to the entry. 

I enjoyed reading this but I think I would have enjoyed reading the responses she got mixed in among her letters more. I also found it strange that certain of the letters in this collection which she wrote to her sisters were missing from that bumper collection (Letters Between Six Sisters) in a way that I noticed; for example a letter to Nancy from Diana about Unity, and a query about a childhood memory from Decca are in that collection, but there's no response from Nancy. The response appears here, which seems like an odd thing to do.

Probably the most telling sequence of letters comes on the publication of Decca's autobiography, Nancy writes to tell her it is wonderful, if ' a cold wind to the heart' but writes to others including Mark Ogilvie Grant and Evelyn Waugh to slag it off, which I felt gave the clearest indication of her as a character. Witty, yet not to be trusted and highly insincere. Something her own sisters and friends all thought of her.   

A good read 8/10

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Books #36-38 Cat Trilogy by Tom Cox

Under The Paw, Talk To The Tail and The Good The Bad And The Furry

The above 3 books work as one collective memoir by the writer Tom Cox about cats he has owned, part owned, and been acquainted with throughout the years. They include Roscoe, Shipley, Brewer, George, Bootsy, Pablo, and famous in their own right : The Bear who is better known as @MYSADCAT, a misanthrope who despairs of the modern world and his frenemy Ralph @MYSMUGCAT who is better than you and knows it, though he can't quite live down the fact that he was once known as Prudence.

I have always wanted and never had a cat, and as complicated yet adorable as Tom Cox's cats appear to be, one of the episodes he recounts of cat ownership includes dealing with a large pool of catpiss on his duvet as well as catpiss on books and catpiss on records. I just couldn't deal with catpiss on my duvet, so I'm guessing cat ownership is not for me.

Despite this the books are endearing and warm though Talk The Tail wanders off topic frequently with stories that are not about the cats and therefore not quite what you came for. These books are 'nice' and are funnier than many books marketed as comic in the way that Cox presents his relationship with them and their relationships with each other.

I think the key word here is undemanding, they are good books to relax with, good for Sunday afternoons, travelling, and perfect presents for the cat lovers in your life.


Book #35 Where'd You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple

Where'd You Go Bernadette?

Where'd You Go Bernadette? is an irritating, garish novel existing entirely of exaggerated caricatures instead of characters and implausible, extreme, plot sequences which though they attempt to satirise the over-achieving private school yet liberal Tiger Parent set, end up grating upon the reader substantially. There is no touchstone here no means of identifying with any of it, unless you too are a competitive Mom who gave your child a silly name, is over involved with the school and either works in tech or has a spouse who does. For a comic novel, it's not particularly funny either, just annoying.

Also, the premise of the book is about the fact that Bernadette has gone missing and that her daughter Bee has set out to piece together what happened. Bernadette actually goes nowhere for 3/4 of the novel and Bee finds her relatively quickly and easily.

Bernadette's husband is a foul character and yet all his misdeeds are as forgotten at the end of the book as though they didn't happen, and alls well that ends well.

Over sold, over hyped, and over the top. Avoid. 2/10  

Book #34 Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park was the last Jane Austen I had left to read, and possibly the Austen novel I have liked least all in all, as such, a short review follows.

Fanny Price is her latest 'lady without a fortune' who is brought up by well meant but unkind relatives who don't wish her to 'rise above her station'. I read something suggestive of the idea that Austen wrote this with the purpose of deploring 'the lack of good moral conduct in the YOUTH OF TODAY' and used Fanny and her cousin Edmund as role models of behaviour. Whilst both the Misses Bertrams are pretty vile, Aunt Norris a horror and Henry Crawford a cad, I saw nothing particularly amiss with Mary Crawford's accurate assertion that 'going to church is pretty boring actually'.

Fanny and Edmund despite being the heroes are both ghastly prigs, and with the whole purpose of the book being to moralise at people, it does not as a consequence have the life or wit of her other novels.

Read to 'complete the set' it's not really worth it for the sheer length of the thing, unless like me you've read all the other ones and this is the last one you've got left.

Meh 6/10

Books #31-33 The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness

The All Souls Trilogy

Oh, the All Souls Trilogy, how ridiculously stupid and outright naff you are, and yet how much I loved you and read you at breakneck speed.

The first of the books is A Discovery Of Witches, Diana Bishop is a witch from a strong bloodline. Yet she prefers to live in the real world, not use powers, and refuses to join a coven. A historian of science she is on sabbatical at Oxford University when she requests a manuscript 'Ashmole 782' from the Bodleian Library which has more to it than meets the eye and sets off a chain of events with dramatic consequences.

Matthew Clairmont is a vampire, and is a thousand years old, he's been watching Diana and after she finds the manuscript supernatural creatures descend upon Oxford, and he must protect her, because the manuscript is the book they've all been looking for.

With definite shades of Twilight and the Twilight inspired 50 Shades Of Grey, Matthew and Diana fall in love, and he whisks her off to his Tudor mansion and his French Chateau, remarkably they have very little sex, they don't even properly shag til halfway through Book 2 and instead seem to drink lots of wine, like a "grown ups version of Twilight" I would have said. He does however want to ravage her but is scared he will kill in her in the throes, and shows the same pathological abusive relationship warning signs exhibited by his literary forebears Edward Cullen and Christian Grey.

Book Two : Shadows Of Night, takes us to Elizabethan England with two goals in mind, find the book, and let Diana learn more about her powers. But frankly, it is more of a historical romp novel in which we can all marvel at the characters of the day like Raleigh and Marlowe; that in the end actually advances the story of mysterious manuscript Ashmole 782 precisely NO FURTHER. The paradox their adventures create and the resolution of this problem is also a complete nonsense, but enjoyable nonsense indeed.

The third book 'The Book Of Life' is a total mess, with new characters popping up all over the place, so that you barely know who anyone is anymore "It's Leonard!" says one character "Remember Leonard?!" (NOPE!)  In fact I'm firmly convinced Leonard had never been in it before, and nor was he essential to the plot. What was the point of you Leonard?
And in the end the actually quite intriguing mystery of Ashmole 782 just gets lost in lots of silliness and romance so cheesy you could put it on toast.  

And therein I guess is my problem, it is ludicrous and I know that I should have laughed it out of town, but I just devoured all three of them. Like a sugar high, or when you can't stop eating Pringles or something. Don't say you weren't warned....


Book #30 The Art Of Fielding by Chad Harbach

The Art Of Fielding

In The Art Of Fielding, promising young baseball player Henry Skrimshander is spotted by sporty college kid Mike Schwartz. Somewhat improbably for a person apparently in their second year at university, Mike has the power and influence to make sure Henry gets a scholarship to a minor New England college with a tenuous association to the novel Moby Dick. From there a novel about sports in college ensues.

In terms of the prose it flows well, and feels well written, it's not necessary to know anything much about baseball to know what is going on. The characters are in general likeable and Henry's journey from invincible to tormented can be compared to any number of successful sportsman. Alas, the problem is not prose nor characterization, but plot.

On the one hand you've got Henry's story, and all in all that side of it works well, but the blurb reads something like "when a throw goes wrong, 5 lives are changed" and the idea that they were changed simply by that ball and not by the disastrous choices made by the individuals themselves which aren't particularly related to the foul ball, is silly at best.

The other side of the plot-coin is the Dean, Guert, his fractured relationship with daughter Pella, and his dangerous obsession with one of his students. On the one hand it reminded me in tone of John Williams' Stoner. On the other hand this novel is two different college stories, in which a poor effort has been made to shoehorn them into one and establish tenuous links between Guert and Pella and Henry and Mike. They just don't connect. Even the plot twist that brings this side of the story to crisis point doesn't hold much water and feels quite forced. The denouement, after a character passes away, belongs in a much lesser, much more melodramatic novel

That said, did I enjoy it as I read it? Yes. It was only after I closed the book, and thought about writing a review that it just seemed faulty somehow. And it didn't 'stay with me' as other recommendations assured me it would. I am behind with the blog and read this in August and I had to look up what some of the characters names were because I just didn't remember.


Book #29 Wait For Me! by Deborah Devonshire

Wait For Me!

Debo, the Duchess of Devonshire was the youngest of the famous Mitford sisters and the last to pass away, just recently, at the age of 94. I only got to really know the Mitford sisters story this year and Debo was by far my favourite, which made her passing all the sadder for me.

There is a slight problem with the portions of the book that cover her childhood and her sisters in that nothing new that isn't already known about them is imparted and feels slightly like a retread. Other stories are familiar too. How many times does one need to read about the 'hilarious' occasion when Woman failed to recognise Lord Mountbatten?

At this point, having read so much about them I was more keen to hear about Debo post her marriage to Andrew Cavendish, when having unexpectedly inherited the dukedom, the couple became determined to turn around the fortunes of Chatsworth House.

Ownership of Lismore Castle also reverted to the Devonshires after the death of Adele Astaire and talk of both these buildings made me want to visit them.

All the Mitfords 'moved in society' but perhaps Debo more than any of them having been related to two Prime Ministers and a US president. Whilst Diana, exiled, socialised with fellow exiles the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Debo was close to Prince Charles and spent time with the Queen, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret.

Her friend the apparently legendary Sybil Chomondley as mentioned in letters to Paddy Leigh Fermor, gets three pages, personally I'd have liked a biography.

Debo also speaks with perhaps unexpected candour about her difficulties carrying children to term, and her husbands struggle with alcoholism.

Easy to read and with a warmth sometimes lacking in the other sisters, Wait For Me is perhaps nonetheless one for the Mitford fans only. 7/10

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Book #28 Looking For Alaska by John Green

Looking For Alaska

Miles isn't a popular kid, and when the opportunity arises elects to go to his father's old boarding school Culver Creek 'to seek a Great Perhaps'. Once there he quickly makes friends with the cooler crowd by virtue of his new room-mate, and falls in love with a girl, the beautiful, unobtainable, Alaska  

Looking For Alaska is a genuinely lovely, well written, reflective novel about life, love, loss and the search for meaning.  What it feels like to be a teenage boy trying to become a man and find your place in the world.

In it's own right, for its own sake, I really enjoyed it. What struck me most though was how much it resembles Paper Towns,  which I happened to read first, published in 2008, 3 years after this, his debut.

Two very similar boys in Miles & Quentin, two very similar girls in Alaska & Margot, are the leads in each, and it somehow feels like Paper Towns IS Looking For Alaska rewritten with a different high school setting and a different ending.

This, though it diminishes Paper Towns as a book and makes it somewhat superfluous it should not diminish Looking For Alaska seeing as it came first, but I have to say, a) I wish I'd read these the opposite way around and b) if I had not also read The Fault In Our Stars I might conclude that John Green only had one novel in him, recycled.

That criticism aside, I have to say that though I liked Paper Towns I really, really, thought Looking For Alaska was fab, and moving and so very worth reading that I have started recommending it about the place already.

Though the similarities were overt, I did love it, and really admired it as a piece of writing.


Book #27 The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

The Little Stranger

This book was one of my longest standing Kindle items in that I bought it in 2011, and read it this week, 3 years later. I had previously read Fingersmith, The Night Watch and Tipping The Velvet and enjoyed each to a different degree. I was utterly blown away by Fingersmith and stayed up all night reading it, but try as I might I kept false starting with The Little Stranger, not getting past the first 3 or 4 pages until my breakthrough the other day.

It concerns the Ayres family, once landed gentry, struggling to survive in the high taxation post World War Two landscape. Roderick, the son and heir is doing his best to hold back the tide, but Hundreds Hall becomes shabbier by the day. Dr Faraday is called in by chance to treat their one remaining live-in servant Betty, and thus becomes attached to their family, a frequent visitor to tea, and observer of events.

But something strange is happening at Hundreds Hall, things that go bump in the night, markings appear on walls and bells ring without anyone to ring them - does all this have a rational explanation as Faraday believes it must? Or is something more sinister at work?

I really liked this book, and read it finally, in two sittings, I think the end sentence is supposed to be ambiguous, an open ending, but I think if you've followed the clues well enough the answer will meet you. The book has an old fashioned ghost story and a riddle at its heart, but is more the sort of book to make you think and anaylse and make your flesh creep than to give you nightmares. Think The Woman In Black yet vastly better written. A lot of other readers have compared it to Turn Of The Screw but I have not read it and so don't know if its an accurate comparison.

As with Fingersmith I enjoyed the way psychiatric care was painted in a very sinister and ultimately abusive light.

There is also the real sense that we are bearing witness to the of the end of an era, not just of Hundreds Hall but of the torch passing from the likes of the Ayres, onwards into the modern age.

This is a really good book, though perhaps dry in parts


Sunday, 12 October 2014

Book #26 The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch was read for my book club, but I had already bought it and would have read it anyway.
The third of Donna Tartt's novels, she appears to only bring one out every ten years. My prior experience with her novels was that her debut The Secret History remains in my opinion one of the best novels I've ever read and her second The Little Friend one of my most loathed novels as a reading experience in terms of hours spent versus satisfaction gained.

What then of her third? If The Secret History was love and The Little Friend hate, I would have to class The Goldfinch as indifference. I neither loved it nor hated it and found it somewhat 'meh' to coin a slang phrase.

The reason for this is simple. The book can clearly be split into four distinct zones, each of which feels like it's part of a different novel. New York Part 1, Vegas, New York Part 2, and Amsterdam.

New York Part 1, where the novel starts is great. An explosion at an art gallery kills Theo's Mum, during the aftermath he befriends a dying old man and steals a priceless artwork, before being sent to stay with the rich family of his best friend from school. Though he knows he should return 'The Goldfinch' it becomes a symbol of his last link to his Mum, and he worries about being punished. He contacts the loved ones of the dying man he met and becomes part of their world too. This whole section was such a good setup, all the characters introduced here are interesting and intriguing and you feel that this is the beginning a really beguiling novel. The family Theo stays with are a family of secrets and you wonder what you will find. But from here the novel takes a turn.

The plot moves us away to Vegas, a colourless landscape, with Theo wasting his potential with a Russian stereotype of a character named Boris with whom he bunks off school and takes drugs. It's all a bit been here read that.

Section three finds Theo back in New York and my overwhelming feeling about this Section was that no-one besides Hobie was particularly likeable. Theo continues on a drug abuse spiral and commits a large scale fraud. He's in love but not with his fiance, and it's all a bit depressing, that angle of things. His best friends family due to events, have become incredibly altered from the people we met in Part One so much so in the case of his friends mother, a stoic if ever there was one, as to be unrecognisable as the same character. Again this seems like a different book.

The return of Stereotype Boris leads us to yet another section which feels disconnected to the rest of the book : a crime thriller in Amsterdam of which I was unenamoured.

The closing epilogue is a trite and somehow patronising treatise on The Lessons Theo Learned About Life From This Experience, a section which goes on for pages and doesn't really need to exist at the length that it does. It seems to exist purely to tell the reader what they should have inferred from the novel and what conclusions they should draw. Tiresome.

All of that said, it is well written and enjoyable to read as you go along, but the overwhelming thing we felt at Book Club was "what was the point of it all?" it doesn't seem to have a point, and is not dare I say it, a book literature as a whole would be lost without.


Book #25 A Life Of Contrasts by Diana Mosley

A Life Of Contrasts

When Diana Mosley's autobiography was published, a friend of hers wrote a review of it in which he accused her of "lacking a dimension" and they subsequently fell out. I only discovered this as I read the additional chapters tacked on to the end of the book, which she added at a later date and I thought it summed up perfectly what was wrong with it.

The 3rd oldest of the Mitford sisters - I was initially reluctant to read Diana's book being so personally at odds with her choice of politics, but I was encouraged to by someone I tweet with and was quite glad I did in the end.

There is a tone to Diana's writing which as her contemporary critics noted lacks something, a je ne sais quoi. if I was to characterise this lack I would call it a sense of normalcy, a sense of awareness of the real world, and definitely a lack of self awareness.

But these absences in her writing lead to a unique book, which is repeatedly unintentionally hilarious, as she laments the lack of a seaside "of their own" (you know as opposed to the norm where people have their own seaside) so they went with their Nanny to visit her sister and the thrill was that "one might pass a Negro on the stairs"  OK....then.

A lot of the childhood reminiscences are familiar to those who've read other Mitford books, Farve's opinion on Romeo and Juliet and the nurse who said she was too beautiful to live etc.

I was more interested in later Diana and what I found was a seemingly endless round of houses and interior design and trips abroad on yachts with Daisy Fellowes and pals and that everyone from her cousins to Evelyn Waugh was in love with her.  Occasionally there is an astounding indolent vapidity to it in the later years. Her experience at Holloway prison where she was imprisoned without trial for nearly 4 years is the one event of real note and it does come across like the grim event it likely was. My favourite Diana anecdote remains that she bought a fur coat to wear in her cell from the money she got from suing a newspaper accusing her of living in luxury.

What is probably most staggering is her genuine attempt to blame the Holocaust on the Jews - who really should have seen the way the wind was blowing and left Germany. In almost the same breath she incongruously blames those Jews who did leave Germany for making things worse by drawing international attention to it.

She points to other atrocities and leaders and defends Hitler as no worse than Mao or Stalin, and whilst she may have a point, it shows an utter lack of compassion and the same loss of perspective of which she accuses others of in the "two wrongs don't make a right" sense.

Being tarred with the Hitler brush she admits did ruin her life and her sister Unity's life and her husbands political career and yet she stands by her good opinion of him and the fact that in 1935 "there was nothing exceptionally wrong in wanting to have tea with Hitler". There is something almost disarmingly honest in that.

In letters between her other sisters it is said that she stood by her fascist beliefs not because she truly still held them but that to publicly abandon them would be an admission that she and more to the point Mosley had wasted their time, most of their lives and certainly most of their money,  pursuing political suicide.  If there is one certain thing about Diana it is that she loved Oswald Mosley beyond reason. To leave ones husband in the 1930s to become the mistress of a married man shows a kind of  bravery and/or foolishness rare for a woman of that era 

Which brings me to a further mystery, Diana and Mosley's finances. How they were able to move from fabulous house in England, to fabulous house in Ireland to fabulous house in France despite his losing most of their fortune in various follies baffled me. It's very hard to see what either one of them DID for a living after leaving Holloway, particularly Diana. When Nancy dies, Debo describes her life as sad, she only had her books, yet Diana doesn't seem to have anything except Mosley whom she propped up as he went from failure to failure. Whilst Nancy wrote, Pamela farmed and ran a stables, Decca had a series of normal jobs, and Debo was busy running Chatsworth as well as commitments associated to being a Duchess, Diana seems to have done little even her children and grandchildren were on the whole looked after by nannies. 

A life of contrasts indeed, and a book of contrasts, on the one hand the carefree lifestyle of the rich against the status of pariah in ones own nation state. The writing, joyous and carefree, often funny, and then by turns completely offensive and deluded; do make this book and Diana Mosley as a character unique.   She was almost certainly the only woman in history to be well acquainted privately with both Winston Churchill and Hitler which is remarkable of itself.

An interesting and intriguing addition to the Mitford canon well worth reading. 8/10

Book #24 The Mitford Girls by Mary S Lovell

The Mitford Girls

I read The Mitford Girls a biography by Mary S Lovell on the back of their collection of letters between each other just because I wanted "more" and I found myself disapproving of it from the off.
To understand why requires a prior knowledge of the sisters for context which a reader has if they've read their letters first but not if they read this first.

Most important of these is when this book was conceived and written because at the time four of the six sisters (Unity, Nancy, Pam and Decca) were dead leaving only Diana and Debo alive. Both agreed to cooperate with the book although letters indicate they found the interest in their family tedious. Reading this made me wholeheartedly believe that they cooperated with it in "exchange" for certain things and that the author of the book agreed to their terms.

Though Debo remained in contact with Decca following her elopement and emigration, Diana did not as their polar opposite politics drove them apart. Debo remained angry with Decca over issues she had with her autobiography, namely that some anecdotes were outright lies and the portrayal of their mother was excessively negative. Diana shared this view and had written to newspapers to object to Decca's memoir, in later life a flurry of letters critical of Decca was exchanged.

What I felt most about this book is that it was The Mitford Girls according to Diana and Debo as opposed to an objective all seeing eye of the author.  Their mother Sydney is championed as a wonderful mother whose views on education (she did not allow her daughters to go to school) were not as backward as they had seemed. The governesses she employed were of a first rate kind espousing the highly thought of at the time PNEU system. The book is gushing about her both at the beginning and the end.

Contrast this view to Diana's own autobiography in which she more or less confirms Decca's assessment; Sydney is described as "disinterested" and that she learned more in 6 months at her French finishing school then she learned at home in six years and it doesn't add up well.

Decca it is repeatedly implied was a liar, a fantasist, a thief, and a bad mother. Yet, when it becomes clear that Diana herself spent very little time with her older sons, Jonathan and Desmond leaving them home alone with a Nanny whilst she jaunted off all over Europe, this is dismissed as typical for women of that class in that era, and that she "simply adored her sons".

Given that Evelyn Waugh was in love with Diana - I did end up wondering if he took some inspiration from her divorce from Bryan Guinness for A Handful Of Dust. Diana cheated on him, but Bryan had to 'commit an indiscretion' in order that Diana could be the one to file for divorce so as not to ruin her own reputation. Pretty much exactly what happens to the characters in Waugh's novel.

This book is also massively critical of Decca's first husband Esmond, who admittedly does come across as a bit of an idiot in Decca's own autobiography.

A pivotal moment concerns Unity. Esmond writes a letter to his in laws threatening to expose her, and this threat is dismissed by the author of this book in a footnote as "some nonsense invented by Decca" 

Yet when Lovell writes the story of Unity's friendship with Hitler she shillyshallys around the 'did they or didn't they?' question. First Unity is just a starstruck fan, and Hitler in any case wouldn't have slept with her because she wasn't German, then they are clearly more than just good friends with pet names and gifts and spending alone time together, then Unity 'is probably in a relationship with a friend of Tom's' then Hitler is paying her bills, then Diana is saying they were just friends, but if Hitler had asked her she would have said yes....At one point, Lord Redesdale is described as liking Hitler much better than the spouses of his daughters 'the man Mosley, the boy Romilly and the bore Rodd' thereby equating Hitler among them. the hovering around the question suggesting then dismissing, suggesting again then dismissing again, seems to be trying to point the reader at the hints between the lines.  Though it does not concretely state she was his mistress, it implies it to a great degree in my view, perhaps as though Lovell uncovered something in her research yet didn't want to offend the family; though others might not see it the same way.

Stylistically too, the author does something infuriating, and starts to almost think of herself as one of them, adopting the nicknames they gave others in a way that seems presumptuous, Nancy's husband Peter Rodd for example is referred to throughout as Prod, their own name for him. I think what I'm trying to say is that it lacks the professional distance one expects from a biography.

As a result I felt that this biography was a jaundiced one, and really, that readers are much better served by reading the sisters in their own words through their letters and their own autobiographies
There is also not a lot of "new" detail in this book except that both Decca and Diana had abortions something nobody really needed to know.

I still savoured it though, the Mitfords being my new obsession, and I still, thankfully have plenty more to read.