Like The Crown? You will love Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown, the life of one of Princess Margaret’s lady in waiting, who grew up on a sumptuous estate, was maid of honor for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, and married a fabulously rich and explosive man who developed the infamous island of Mustique in the Caribbeans. The book is a stunning display of how very insular the world of aristocrats and wealthy people can be–and how utterly different from “normal” their lives are, when dire financial straight simply mean selling one of the antique paintings they don’t have on display anyway.
There are some moving personal moments as well, about her difficult marriage and the deaths of two of her sons, all told with the utmost stiff upper lip.
Cosy: The British Art of Comfort is a short book that’s almost too cute, but it’s a good escape into the British stay-home lifestyle (now that we are all staying home), complete with fires, tea, and a comfy bed. A wonderful way to remember that home is really a good place to be, at least if one can take a walk in the rain once in a while..
Careless Love starts with two somewhat suspicious deaths, that will eventually be tied together and with more in a terrifying conspiracy. It felt like the story was a kind of warmup to another, darker, more international story. We shall see. And the personal details sprinkled throughout felt a little forced. Yes, we get it, the detective likes music of a particular era.
Barbara Cleverly is the queen of mysteries in which death is caused remotely, with the perpetuator actually convinces the victim to essentially kill herself, and Enter Pale Death fits the mold. It also features the usual pomp of old-style British aristocracy and its grand houses. Both the plot and the way it is uncovered seemed just too precious to me but the vast cast of characters was certainly well observed.
In Mothering Sunday, an aging novelist remembers a Sunday when she was in her early twenties, working as a house servant and about to lose her aristocratic lover. The story unfolds slowly, capturing not just the events of the day, but the heroine’s entire life as well as her thoughts and feelings as she moves through that unforgettable day. A delightful story full of shadows and complicated relationships.
Weatherland: Writers & Artists Under English Skies is an erudite review of how weather figures in the work of British artists. (English artists? That’s what the title says but she makes reference to Wales; how can a non-Brit figure it out?)
So we start, with Roman-time orders for some nice woolens. Poor Romans, they must have felt cold, and damp, in Britain… We plow through Chaucer, and Ms. Harris insist we read it in the original language. Maybe a footnote would suffice? We peek at toes being warmed on a fire in medieval illustrations. I liked the art better than the literature, both because the illustrations are perfect and because much is lacking in my knowledge of British literature. A treat for literary Anglophiles, and an interesting read for everyone else.
The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain is an idiosyncratic journey through Great Britain — but the journey is just an excuse to talk about the author’s beloved country of adoption. His musings on the delightful ways of the Brits, the exquisite landscapes, and the right history of the place are most enjoyable. He also inserts many rants about subjects as varied as fast-food restaurants employees, dismal urban planning, poor spelling, and the general boorishness of the hoi polloi — some rants are funny but others go on a little too long, or repeat themselves a bit too much. I preferred the softer bits.
In Their Promised Land: My Grandparents In Love And War, the author tells the story of his grandparents through his own memories but mostly the letters that they wrote to each other, and they wrote many since they were unlucky enough to live through two world wars, during which they were separated. Both grandparents are second-generation German Jews living in Britain in a very comfortable manner but they still have to contend with antisemitic discrimination that makes it difficult for him to find a position as a physician, for instance. The story is a love story, between Win and Bernard for sure, but also for the family they built together against the background of the wars. (Much better than All The Light We Cannot See!)
A Strange Business: Art, Culture, and Commerce in Nineteenth Century London talks about the artists, their patrons, and all the craftsmen and business people that made the practice and commerce of art possible in the United Kingdom during the 19th century. The author starts off with a painfully assembled foursome, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Turner, and Faraday, but does not seem to do much with them (although they obviously make repeated appearances in the various chapters of the book, which focus on various aspects of the art business). He also has some difficulty showing that what happened in London art circles at that time was any more than the normal benefits of wealth in making it possible for artists to thrive. There are a few interesting comments, such as when he points out that both artists and the nouveaux-riches who so wanted to appear cultured often came from the same, unhealthy backgrounds. But otherwise I found the book a little dry, full of dull correspondence and bills for various works of art and art supplies.