I’m back in the swing of things now; it’s my first day back at work today, and in between answering the deluge of emails in my inbox, I am allowing my mind to wander back to those sun filled African skies that now seem so far away. It’s funny how quickly you reacclimatise to life; this time last week I was wandering around a traditional African market in the blazing heat, soaking up the culture and enjoying being able to meander at my leisure through the busy streets of a foreign city. I couldn’t imagine ever going back to my normal routine, and had my usual holiday daydreams of going back to London, chucking it all in and boarding a plane to Anywhere But Here, with nothing but a small suitcase and a spirit of adventure to accompany me.
But here I am, back at my desk, and already it feels like I never went on holiday as I whack on my ipod, elbow annoying slow people out of my way as I travel around on the London Transport system and let my head get resubmerged into work and London and the life I have here. It’s not a bad job, or a bad life, and I am far from dissatisfied, but it always surprises me how, whenever I go on holiday, I feel a unique sense of freedom and connection with a ‘me’ I never normally get to be. It makes me realise how stifled I am by my everyday life; how little of what I do on a daily basis actually reflects my dreams, my ambitions, my beliefs, my desires. What if I didn’t have to sit at this desk from 9-5.30 every day? What if I didn’t have to pay extortionate London rent every month? What if I forgot about what I am supposed to be achieving and started living the life I want to live rather than the life I am expected to? What could I be capable of? If I never make any changes, I’ll never know. I decided at the beginning of this year that this was going to be the year of radical change, and my trip to South Africa has cemented my desire to dare to be different and take the plunge into new waters. I’ve already started putting quite a few wheels into motion, and, if things work out the way I hope they will, I’ll have exciting news to report before long about where my life is heading!
So, enough about me and more about books. On my behemoth of a solo plane journey from London to Istanbul, Istanbul to Joburg, and Joburg to Cape Town (it was a very cheap flight), I only managed to read one and a half books, as I watched a couple of films (Amelia, which was so-so, and The Proposal, which I LOVE), had a little sleep, and did a lot of wandering around foreign airports. If you ever do a stop over in Istanbul, check out the Bazaar with the baskets and baskets full of free turkish delight in all different flavours; it’s amazing! As I was feeling a bit nervous about the flight and all the changeovers I had to do, I took along some comfort reading in the shape of Nancy Mitford’s masterpieces, The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate. I read the former many years ago, and never got around to reading the sequel, so I couldn’t wait to immerse myself in the world of the Mitfords again.
The Pursuit of Love instantly became a favourite with me when I first read it, and I loved it all over again as I laughed out loud at the exploits of the Radlett family: “always either on a peak of happiness or drowning in black waters of despair, they loved or they loathed, they lived in a world of superlatives”. It centres around the beautiful Linda, taking in the lives of her lovers, siblings, and parents, all lovingly narrated by her eminently sensible cousin Fanny, whose mother, nicknamed ‘The Bolter’, a glamorous commitment-phobe, is the stuff of family legend. Having read the biography of the sisters by Mary S Lovell last year, I instantly recognised many of the characters. Vague Aunt Sadie and explosive Uncle Matthew are Lord and Lady Redesdale to a T; the ravishing and implusive Linda is, of course, Nancy’s younger sister Diana Mosley. Fanny weaves a tale of a loud, dysfunctional and irrepresibly funny family, who are bound together by a love strong enough to forgive their many indiscretions. Uncle Matthew rules the household with an iron fist, or so he likes to believe, but his soft heart is his undoing, as his inability to avoid allowing his children to find ‘the thin end of the wedge’ of every punishment inevitably results in them always getting their own way. Aunt Sadie has her head in the clouds, but comes down every now and again to give out half hearted reprimands and support her children in their various endeavours. Linda and Fanny are desperate to ‘come out’ and enter the real world; they dream of falling in love and getting married, and discuss this endlessly in the ‘Hon’s Cupboard’, along with the other Radlett children. They manage to marry fairly quickly, but it is Linda’s disastrous love life, weaving its way through 1920s London, the Spanish Civil War, pre war Paris and finally war torn England that provides the plot of this hilarious and at times very moving novel that so clearly captures the eccentric and lively world the Mitfords inhabited. It’s absolutely chock full of hilarious quotes I could copy down and delight you with for hours, and it really did entertain and charm me all over again. Nancy Mitford has such an eye for people, and for picking out their ridiculous qualities; she had some excellent inspiration, but still, she had a great gift.
Love in a Cold Climate, a loose sequel to The Pursuit of Love, wasn’t quite up to the same standard in my opinion, largely because there wasn’t enough of the Radletts for my liking! It is again narrated by Fanny, and Polly, the main character, is a distant relation of hers who she stays with often, and is a neighbour of the Radletts. I thought this was a bit tenuous as there was no mention of such a character in The Pursuit of Love, but I soon got over it. Polly is a beautiful heiress about to ‘come out’, but she shows no interest in men, much to her vain and difficult mother’s distress. Unfortunately it soon turns out that she is in love, but with the highly unsuitable ‘Boy’ Dougdale, her Uncle through marriage, who ‘fooled around’ with the Radlett girls as children and has been her mother’s longstanding extra marital lover. This causes terrible problems amongst her family, and also for the Radletts, who are intimately involved, and things only get more complicated when the outrageously gay Cedric Hampton, heir to Polly’s father’s entailed fortune, turns up on the scene. It’s very funny, and wise, and filled with the same brilliant larger than life characters as The Pursuit of Love, but it lacked the charm and cosiness of its predecessor for me. Still highly recommended, though.
I know a lot of people have posted about Nancy now that Penguin are republishing her, and I am glad she is having a mini renaissance. I am anxious to read the nice new edition of Don’t Tell Alfred, which completes the triology of novels Fanny narrates. The previously unavailable Wigs on the Green has also intrigued me, though I have heard from several reliable sources that it’s not quite up to the mark. All I know is that a novel by a Mitford is always going to interest me due to their shameless use of personal friends and relatives as material, so whether they’re well written or not, they’ll always be entertaining! I’ll be asking for these two for my birthday and I’ll let you know how I get on.