Book Review – The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

books, reviews

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I meant to read Nancy Mitford’s Christmas Pudding back in December but I never got round to it. I ended up with far too many things to on my festive TBR and something had to suffer. Unfortunately, that was Nancy Mitford. Thankfully this month’s book club gave me the chance to make up for this when her novel The Pursuit of Love was chosen. It wasn’t my first choice but I was more than happy with the selection. In fact, it was probably the best bunch of novels so far. I’ve also learnt my lesson from previous months and not left the reading until the last minute. Of course, the chances are Ill have forgotten a lot of it by tomorrow’s meeting but it’s better than rushing the last third. This is what happens when people give me a reading deadline. I just lose all motivation to get it done.

I picked up this book when I was in the midst of a pretty dire reading slump and it was exactly the kind of book I needed. Focusing on an upper-class family and set during the interwar period, Nancy Mitford’s novel is delightful and wickedly funny. The first book in a trilogy, the novel introduces us to the Radlett family. A family that is loosely based on her family. Mitford was part of a large upper-class family and is well known for writing about situations that she knew from her own upbringing. Her books tended to centre around glamour and a rather indifferent attitude. The Pursuit of Love delves into these waters again but brings with it a slightly darker edge. Mitford raises questions about family and domestic life. The novel is a way of analysing the balance of power within marriage and the parent/child relationship.

The novel is narrated by Fanny, a cousin of the Radlett family. Having been abandoned by her “wicked parents”, Fanny is being raised by her Aunt Emily. She spends the holidays with her Aunt Sadie, her husband Matthew, and their children. Fanny is closest to Linda, the second eldest child of the Radlett’s and it is her story that the novel recounts. All of the Radlett children are raised by their slightly tyrannical father and their indifferent mother. The young girls are not educated and are being raised to marry a wealthy man. Fighting against what is expected of her, Linda dreams of marrying for love. Something that causes her to marry the first man who shows an interest in her. As you might expect, the marriage does not end successfully and is the first step along a path of failed romantic endeavours. Will she ever be able to find love or will she be doomed to bolt forever like Fanny’s own mother?

Though this novel deals with some darker and serious topics, it is a wonderfully light and charming novel. The cast of characters all feel so full of life, which is probably down to the fact so many of them were based on Mitford’s family. Even during the time we spend in war-torn Britain, the novel maintains its wicked sense of humour. There is sentiment here but modern readers might not always feel comfortable with Mitford’s tone. It can seem very dry at times but that really just adds to the humour. It harks back to an archaic attitude favoured by the upper-classes and is wonderfully in keeping with the narrative. Though it is also pretty difficult not to warm to the cast of characters we meet. Who doesn’t instantly feel love for poor Linda as she struggles in the world of romance? Especially as her major education on the subject came from reading a book called Ducks and Duck Breeding.

Of course, running beneath all of this is a pessimism regarding love and marriage. A critique of the balance of power between men and women. A cold portrait of the upper classes during the earlier 20th century. A tragic tale of what it was to be a young lady looking for her true love. Though there is comedy aplenty in Mitford’s novel, it is always tinged with the whiff of tragedy. Although, a tragedy that is wrapped up in the superficial and frivolous world of an eccentric aristocratic family. Mitford has the ability to write a seemingly simple tale but add depth and realism to the story. You can enjoy this simply as a witty story about the Radlett family but there is plenty to find within these pages. It’s the sort of book that you can return to again and again. Each time that you do, you can be sure of a warmer stay than you’d have at Alconleigh.

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