Tag Archives: Brexit

#BookReview ‘Wigs on the Green’ by Nancy Mitford #humour #satire

Nancy MitfordWhen office worker Noel Foster inherits three thousand three hundred and fourteen pounds from an aunt and sets his heart on finding a girl to marry, his friend tells him, ‘It’s such a fearful gamble. Much better put the money on a horse and be out of your misery at once.’ And so starts Wigs on the Green, the third novel by Nancy Mitford. But as well as a social satire of the upper class circles in which she moved, as in her previous novels, in Wigs on the Green Mitford had a more personal target in mind: the fascist pretensions of her sisters Unity and Diana. The sisters disliked the novel; it caused a family rift and was not republished within Mitford’s lifetime [she died in 1973].

Money and sex are at the heart of the story; the spending and gaining of money, the marrying into money, and the pursuit of sex seemingly regardless of the eligibility and marital status of the intended. Noel and his friend Jasper Aspect go to Chalford in search of the young heiress, Eugenia Malmains. Their first glimpse of the over-enthusiastic fascism-obsessed Eugenia is as she gives a public speech on behalf of the Union Jack Movement to the Chalford villagers, ‘Britons, awake! Arise! Oh, British lion!’. This is the first of Mitford’s novels to transition from the Twenties, with tales of the chaotic partying and shenanigans of the Bright Young Things, into the Thirties and the rising threat of fascism in Europe. The fascination with National Socialism, the jackboots and roaring nationalism portrayed in Wigs on the Green was actually happening as the blackshirts of Oswald Mosley – husband of Mitford’s sister Diana – gained in popularity. Read today, this is still funny but I also found uncomfortable parallels with the 21st century nationalism of Brexit. For this reason alone, Wigs on the Green is worth reading. Mitford excels at comic portrayals of characters verging on ridiculous but with the capacity for self-deception we may recognise in real people.

Noel falls in lust with local beauty Mrs Lace. Meanwhile, two mysterious young ladies, Miss Smith and Miss Jones, check into the village pub The Jolly Roger, soon followed by two men in raincoats. The two men, and two women, all suspect these to be detectives. As Noel starts to resent the way Jasper runs up bills on Noel’s tab and not his own, Jasper mischievously hints to Mrs Lace that Noel is something other than he appears. He likes to be treated as a normal person, he hints, because of course he is very special. This leads her to believe Noel is an exiled Balkan prince. Noel and Jasper sign up for Eugenia’s party and are now addressed by her as Union Jackshirt Foster and Union Jackshirt Aspect. Meanwhile Eugenia is brought into conflict with friends of Mrs Lace, the thespians and artists from nearby Rackenbridge. As political differences widen and unsuitable sexual conquests are sought, the climax comes at an event originally intended as Eugenia’s coming-out party – a pageant at Chalford Park when everyone comes together to act out the visit of George III and Queen Charlotte – which evolves into a Union Jack Movement event instead. Chaos is the result.

There are moments of sharp social observation and moments that made me chuckle. The political satire is cutting, but stays in the background; Mitford had to tread a fine line in order to avoid being sued by her brother-in-law.

Read my reviews of Highland Fling and Christmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford.

If you like this, try these:-
‘The Light Years’ by Elizabeth Jane Howard
‘The Secrets of Gaslight Lane’ by MRC Kasasian
‘The Bone Church’ by Victoria Dougherty

‘Wigs on the Green’ by Nancy Mitford’ [UK: Penguin]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
WIGS ON THE GREEN by Nancy Mitford #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-340 via @SandraDanby

Book review: Autumn

Ali SmithUplifting, enlightening, funny, clever, depressing, sad and heartwarming. The mischievous Autumn by Ali Smith is an ingenious novel, the first of the ‘Seasonal Quartet’ telling the story of the UK fragmented after the post-Brexit vote in 2016, when ugliness and prejudice rose to the surface setting brother against sister, friend against friend, dividing streets, neighbourhoods and towns, a binary split with each side convinced it is right and the other, wrong.

Daniel Gluck is 101 years old and in a nursing home, we see from his wonderful lyrical dreams that he teeters on the edge of death. Smith builds her world around Mr Gluck and Elisabeth Demand who, with her mother Wendy, lived next door to Daniel when Elisabeth was a child. Their relationship starts in 1993. Elisabeth, aged eight, must interview a neighbour for a homework project. Her mother is not keen and tries to bribe her to invent a neighbour instead. The following day Elisabeth meets Mr Gluck and, despite her mother’s misgivings (single man, dodgy, must be gay, might be unsafe etc) they become firm friends. Now he is 101 and she tells a lie to the nursing home – yes, she is his grand-daughter – in order to gain a visitor’s pass. She sits by his bed and reads Brave New World.

Smith compares and contrasts modern life with past times in the twentieth-century, we see modern life through Elisabeth’s storyline countered by Daniel’s memories and dreams, and his interpretations of books, art and song for the child Elisabeth. The story wings its way through contemporary references from television antiques programmes and passport applications to celebrity Christine Keeler, sculptor Barbara Hepworth and pop artist Pauline Boty.

This is all very interesting but, with the lightest of hands, Smith gives a warning about the danger of nationalism, populism and the easy appeal of accepting political lies rather than asking difficult questions of the politicians and ourselves. One passage in particular underlines it all: Daniel’s younger sister Hannah is captured in Nice, France, in 1943 despite carrying papers which identify her as Adrienne Albert.

Running throughout are the themes of truth v lies [juxtaposed often, with lies often being throwaway and easy whilst truth can be awkward and difficult to say] and identity. There is a hilarious passage where Elisabeth tries to renew her passport application at the Post Office, an all-too-believable portrayal of officialdom. Some of the historical sections, particularly about Keeler and Boty, seemed rushed and I would have liked more of Daniel’s songwriting background which was mentioned fleetingly.

Short, at 272 pages, Autumn can be read in one sitting. It is a joy to read. Next in the quartet comes Winter.

Autumn was shortlisted for the 2017 Booker Prize.

Read my review of How to be Both also by Ali Smith.

If you like this, try:-
‘Moon Tiger’ by Penelope Lively
‘Darktown’ by Thomas Mullen
‘Shelter’ by Sarah Franklin

‘Autumn’ by Ali Smith, #1 Seasonal Quartet [UK: Penguin] Buy now

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
AUTUMN by Ali Smith #bookreview http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2SX via @SandraDanby