This was a Christmas present and completes my Mitford collection (though I still hanker after the complete Penguin edition) and is the last of my Christmas-y reading for a while. It's almost a month since I actually read this book (whilst on holiday) when I took copious notes of my opinions and doubtless brilliant insights. Unfortunately I've no idea what happened to my notebook. I had it a week or two back but there have been guests and entertaining since then and in a mismanaged attempt to look tidy and organised I've lost god knows what useful things (the hot water bottle stopper with a working seal has also disappeared and it's quite likely that I won't be able to put my hand to my cheque book for a while). I'm sure it'll turn up one day (hopefully with a missing necklace and my scattered wits).
Meanwhile it seemed like a good idea to write about this book before I forgot all about it. 'Christmas Pudding' was a bit of a revelation at a point where I'd begun to think of Mitford as decidedly over rated and over exposed. It's not that I particularly disapprove of the Mitford industry - we all have to make a living and they're an interesting family albeit mostly in terms of the people they knew - but Nancy wasn't really a prolific writer of books (8 fiction, 4 non fiction?) and her legacy is one of decidedly mixed quality. 'Highland Fling' is never better than average (although still amusing and it was her first novel so allowances can be made) 'Wigs on The Green' is mostly a curiosity, well worth reading, but butchered by Nancy in a failed attempt to placate her fascist sisters. Seeing as that didn't work it's a shame she never let rip with all her original intentions - that would have been a book to seek out. 'Pigeon Pie' is another curiosity with lots to enjoy in it but again - distinctly average.
'Christmas Pudding' is in another class, it was Nancy's second book and has a touch of magic to it. The story is a romp with romance shot through with a hint of bitterness - nobody makes bitter as funny as Nancy can. She's also talking about a world she knew; bright young things in London, and the landed gentry in the Cotswold's. The existence she describes is terrifying; the central characters -Sally and Walter Monteath have just produced a daughter (which seems somewhat feckless as they have not a bean to live on) fortunately baby Elspeth's christening gifts ought to bring in a few bob once they're hocked. They live hand to mouth cadging off richer friends with seemingly no thought for the future - the embodiment of the bright young thing - but Mitford throws in an odd little New Year's day scene where everyone sits around hungover to the eyeballs and looking every minute of there age, she's well aware that the party will end.
There are other wonderful creations; Paul Fotheringay the misunderstood writer whose tragic masterpiece has been hailed as the comic tour de force of the season and Bobby Bobbin - the boy. The boy is a creature, or perhaps a force of nature that has all but vanished (I hope he still exists within the enclosure of a few select private schools) teenagers are not the same at all. Bobby is wonderfully unlikely to the modern eye but is such a popular type in fiction that he must have existed...
This isn't quite Mitford at her mature best - not much Mitford is - but it's really very enjoyable and I highly recommend it. It's a good thing that Capuchin and Penguin have done re releasing these titles .
I read this just before Christmas and really enjoyed it - a nice surprise, after finding Wigs on the Green a little disappointing. I still have The Blessing and Don't Tell Alfred to read - I've never found Highland Fling but then I haven't looked too hard for it either.ReplyDelete
As a salaried employee of Capuchin Classics, I am informing you not altogether altruistically that same publisher has produced a solus edition of Highland Fling. The interwebulator reference is http://www.capuchin-classics.co.uk/capuchin/site/product_rpt.asp?Catid=274&catname=Delete
Lisa May - I enjoyed 'Wigs on the Green' but as much for it's curiosity factor as anything else - Highland Fling falls into the same category for me. Capuchin Classics are absolutely worth checking out though (and I'm not salaried - or even bribed) they have a lovely list.Delete
I'm dying to read some Nancy Mitford as I've heard so much about her but never experienced her writing myself. Christmas Pudding sounds charming, a bit like PG Wodehouse -- whom I love.ReplyDelete
Diana, Christmas Pudding is (in my opinion) by far the best of her early books and also the one that has the most in common with Wodehouse so would be an excellent place to start. She's much spikier and darker than Wodehouse is and can be very funny but there's something more serious underlying her comedy.Delete