The author of this novel, Nancy Mitford, was born at the beginning of the 20th Century and was one of the daughters of a Baron. She had a privileged upbringing, was privately educated; she began writing before she married and published a number of novels prior to the release of this one. The Pursuit of Love was an instant best seller and established Mitford as a novelist.
Nancy Mitford has explained that the early chapters of this book are semi-autobiographical in terms of growing up in a country house surrounded by other children. The book is narrated by Fanny who’s Aunt Sadie and Uncle Matthew live in the country with their own children in a big, ugly, cold country house. Fanny’s own mother, referred to quite openly as Bolter as she went from one relationship to another, had not stayed with her father and had left her daughter with another sister, Emily. In the main Fanny lives with her Aunt Emily but stays with her other Aunt and Uncle and their family during the holidays. She is great friends with her cousin Linda who’s story this truly is and we follow Linda as she grows up, has her “coming out” season, marries and has children. Linda is truly a girl looking for love, a fairly tale, and she trips over it in the end but she is such a beauty and has such a spark to her that many people love and look after her over her life, including Fanny who loves her dearly.
Linda never quite gets to live in the real world and her unrealistic expectations of love probably set her up for misery really but she never gives up hope and the book never lets her fall into abject misery though circumstances would support that. I think perhaps she never realises until the end that she should be unhappy. Linda does some pretty awful things to be honest and yet she remains a likeable character.
I really enjoyed this book. The writing is extremely accessible and the characters sparkle off of the page. Some moments had me laughing out loud, particularly with regards to the character Uncle Matthew who is a grumpy and set in his ways guy who will not be moved from his country pile or from England for that matter. He calls Fanny’s mother Bolter to her face and plans to blow up the larder should the German’s invade during WWII, to make sure he didn’t help them at all.
The story starts pre-WWII and walks us into the commencement of the War and the air raids over London as well as making mention of Dunkirk. There is also an interesting part of the story set in Southern France where Linda travelled to help the million people fleeing the civil war in Spain. A character later in the story explains the poor French response to this influx of refugees. Perhaps tales lost in the ether because of the outbreak of WWII.
I will say that there was some very dated and inappropriate language in this book relating to race, generally emanating from the mouth of Uncle Matthew. Aside from those distasteful moments which occur seldom, this is an excellent book and I really enjoyed reading it. I liked many of the characters, and there were many that were quite well developed alongside some, like Aunt Emily that weren’t developed at all. I really enjoyed reading about London and Paris particularly in the lead up to the War. Clearly this book is about people with money and their outlook on others was interesting, apparently the middle-classes are far too pre-occupied with money!
This will most definitely be one of my favourite books of the year and I look forward to exploring more work by and about Nancy Mitford.