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Sophisticated Entertainment, If Not Quite a "Novel"
on March 3, 2006
This book makes for great entertainment in its portrait of a way of life quite alien to most Americans, or known only to devotees of certain PBS fare. The English "aristocracy" retain a certain fascination, with their rituals and sense of "class", for the most part a matter of the lucky gene pool club rather than any real personal accomplishment. The author obviously feels an affinity for the aristocracy, notwithstanding the skewering he gives them. The book never quite has the feel of a "novel", although that hardly detracts from its entertainment value. On the whole, the book reads more like "new journalism", as the first person narrator for the most part describes, rather than creates, the characters, who are more than one-dimensional, but not quite three dimensional. The "form" tends to break down, as the author does not maintain consistent first person narration, but occasionally lapses into a conventional omniscient narrative, portraying incidents, conversations, etc. which the first person narrator could not have known. The most interesting character is Lady Uckfield, keeper of the flame, and it's a pity she was not the focus of the story rather than Charles and Edith, who emerge more as stereotypes than fully fleshed-out characters. The book is rich in trenchant observation and subtle wit, although the ending (I won't give it away) seems contrived and not up to the standard of the rest of the book. This would make a most delightful movie.