Saturday, March 25, 2017

What I Read in December 2016 Part IV. . .

What I Read in December 2016 Part IV . .

Christmas PuddingChristmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford--Historical Fiction

Paul Fotheringay is in despair. He has just written a best-selling novel! The problem? Everyone thinks his novel is so funny when it was meant to be tragic. He is in search of a new book and hits upon the idea of publishing work about a 19th century ancestress of Lady Bobbin, permission for which Lady Bobbin has soundly refused. Her irrepressible son Bobby finds a way to sneak Paul into Crompton Bobbin. His sister, Philadelphia, is stuck in the country bored to death and longing for romance. Sally and Walter Montheath are new parents and poor and need a little break. Luckily, their friend ex-lady of the evening, Amabelle Fortescue, has invited all her friends to a Christmas gathering at her rented country home Mulberrie- right near Crompton Bobbin. The characters lives intersect and they interact with unpredictable and amusing results.

This is a witty story about upper crust English men and women in the vein of Jane Austen. The writing is not so sophisticated or smooth as dear Jane's; nor does the story really speak to me or bear any relevance to my life. I enjoyed it as amusing, mostly mindless fun. The plot moves slowly- it's not an action filled story and there are way too many characters to keep track of. I kept forgetting who was who. None of them were all that appealing. The passages from Lady Maria's diary were a scream! Paul's reaction to them is amusing from the perspective of the reader.

The main character, if there is one, is Paul Fotheringay, a depressed writer in search of inspiration. He doesn't have much drive and is very passive. He let a teenager plan his life for him. I didn't care for his lack of backbone in dealing with a tricky situation. The next most prominently featured character is Bobby Bobbin, Lady Bobbin's son home from Eton for the holidays. He's crazy, irresponsible, selfish and massively irritating. Every scene he's in he is trying to thwart his mother, as all teens try to. Life is one big game to him. He doesn't experience any character growth. His sister Philadelphia is as dutiful and morose as Bobby is full of joie de vivre. I don't blame her. I think I would be depressed too if I had her life. She's not very bright and has high expectations placed on her. I liked how she thought she knew her own mind but didn't like how her story ended up.

Lady Bobbin is a disagreeable, eccentric tyrant. She's awful to her children and not really interested in her neighbors except when they come to hunt. With an outbreak of Hoof and Mouth disease, the hunting season is postponed. There is also the recent troubles (Great Depression) which put a damper on how things should be done. She's a terrible mother and completely out of touch with the world.

Amabelle is the matchmaker of the group. Married three times already, she isn't interested in marriage herself but likes to see others happy. She thinks she knows what's best for everyone. She has some good insights into the characters' personalities and marriage which I found interesting. I don't know if I would agree with her.

Some of the views expressed in this book are outdated but not excessive. The story is not as amusing as a P.G. Wodehouse romp and the only thing Christmas about it is the time of year it takes place. Fans of the English country house novel will enjoy this one.

Christmas Pudding and Pigeon PieChristmas Pudding and Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford--Historical Fiction

Pigeon Pie takes place during the early days of World War I. The main character, Lady Sophia Garfield, a Bright Young Thing, has been disillusioned in life. She's fallen out of love with her husband and he only sees her as a trophy wife to show off to his business colleagues. To make matters worse, he's fallen in with some weird religious cult from Boston and installed them in their home. Her lover has no thoughts of marriage, but that's fine because Sophia can't bring herself to be divorced, remarried and poor. When war is declared, Sophia thinks she knows exactly what it will be like. At first the reality is much different from expectations: a boring desk job instead of nursing and barely any fighting at all. Then she accidentally discovers a secret that could change the course of the war and bring Britain to her knees.

This story started off reaaaallly slow. It had too much telling and not enough showing. The first half or so is mostly exposition. Then when the plot picks up, it really picks up. I couldn't put it down. I did find it rather obvious and felt that some suspension of disbelief has to happen here, but that's what makes it almost funny. I say almost because it is a story about war. Sophia's inner monologues are funny (unintentionally on her part) and her godfather, Sir Ivor King aka "The King of Song" is a hoot.

The characters are hard to like. Sophia is trapped in a dull marriage. She's completely clueless about anything and her thought process sometimes sounds like a child's. Sophia is very shallow and thus happy or content. She isn't exactly a memorable heroine but she becomes a bit stronger and more interesting at the end. Her husband, Luke, is insanely boring and pompous. He has erroneous opinions about Germany and is as clueless as Sophia sometimes. His attraction to Florence and her bizarre cult is strange. Sophia's lover Rudolph isn't much of a lover. As boring and pompous as Luke us, Rudolph is carefree, happy and really bad at reading people and situations. He doesn't really care much about Sophia. I don't know why they are together. Sophia's rival, "Olga Gogothsy" (fka Baby Baggs) is a stereotypical catty rich woman who always wants to be the center of attention. I didn't like her any more than Sophia did.

My favorite character is Sir Ivor. He's as three-dimensional as Nancy Mitford could make him in this early novel of hers. I can easily picture him and hear him. He is the comic relief character. My love for him only increases as the story goes on. I also loved Millie, the French Bulldog. She's so cute!

I had a bit of a hard time reading some of the propaganda and period viewpoints in this book. There's more than the pre-war story because of the war situation and it's hard to read about the war in hindsight knowing what we know now. That shouldn't stop anyone from trying to read this story though. If you can make it past the first four chapters, the story picks up a bit in Chapter 5. 

The Romance of a Christmas CardThe Romance of a Christmas Card by Kate Douglas Wiggin--Historical Fiction

In Beulah, New Hampshire, one Christmas Eve, Reba Larabee, the minister's wife, is struck with inspiration seeing her friend Letty sitting by an open window keeping watch over her twin nephews. Reba intends to draw a picture of Letty's quaint sitting room and sell it to a greeting card company. Letty has been burdened with the care of one family member after another for most of her life. For the last three years she has had the care of her wayward brother David's twin babies. Unwanted and unloved by their father, Letty does her best but she wishes David would show some interest in his own sons. As the months change and Christmas rolls around again, surprises are in store for the good folks of Beulah.

This is a sweet Christmas tale very similar in vein to Lucy Maud Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott's children's stories. This one is an adult story, told from the perspective of adults, but with all the wholesomeness of the children's stories. It's a little less preachy than children's stories but still tells the tale of the prodigal son. The plot is predictable except the story ended sooner than I wanted it to.

I really liked Reba. She seems to have shaken up the town a bit with her energy and liveliness. She and her husband have such a sweet, loving relationship. I felt bad for Letty. She never has an opportunity to be selfish or do anything for herself. The townspeople are amusing for all their narrow-mindedness. They're very much flatter versions of Lucy Maud Montgomery's staunch Presbyterian Prince Edward Islanders.

The illustrations are beautiful. This edition has a couple of lovely color plates in addition to black and white drawings. The cover image is important to the story.

If you like Victorian moral tales, you will probably enjoy this one too.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave comments and or suggestions for QNPoohBear, the modern bluestocking.