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Habits of the House Hardcover – January 15, 2013

3.3 out of 5 stars 108 customer reviews

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Julian Fellowes's Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
"Julian Fellowes's Belgravia" by Julian Fellowes
From the creator and writer of Downton Abbey comes a grand historical novel, with hugely exciting twists and dramatic chapter endings. Learn more | See author page
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

FAY WELDON is a novelist, playwright, and screenwriter who, at the age of 16, lived in a grand London townhouse as the daughter of the housekeeper. In addition to winning a Writers' Guild Award for the pilot of Upstairs Downstairs, she is a Commander of the British Empire whose books include Praxis, shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction; The Heart of the Country, winner of the Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize; Worst Fears, shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel Award; and Wicked Women, which won the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award. She lives in England.

Review

“Good fun from start to finish, thanks to breezy storytelling and witty social observations.” ―The Washington Post

“Weldon brilliantly captuures the rituals above stairs and the gossip below stairs...Habits of the House is an absorbing and worthwhile read.” ―Star Tribune

“Before there was Downton Abbey, there was Upstairs Downtstairs and, having written the first episode of that iconic television series, it is only fitting that Weldon now returns to the scene of the crime to further explore the disparate worlds of ‘them that has and those what serve 'em.'” ―Booklist

“[Habits of the House] succeeds as an opening to a new series.” ―Publishers Weekly

“An entertaining romp for Downton Abbey fans. . . . Weldon did the screenwriting for the first episode of Upstairs Downstairs so she has form in this arena.” ―The Guardian

“I predict a happy success for the trilogy, in print and on the screen. Julian Fellowes must look to his laurels, and Downton Abbey may find itself running second to 17 Belgrave Square.” ―The Scotsman

“My favorite part of the original series is the first episode because it was written by a great English novelist, Fay Weldon. Everybody was introduced so cleverly . . . so beautifully established.” ―Jean Marsh, co-creator of Upstairs, Downstairs

“There is simply no touching Weldon as a writer.” ―The Observer (UK)

“Fay Weldon has always examined the scary parts of what lies beneath the silk cushions and behind the closed gates.” ―The Chronicle of Higher Education

“I was a girl from Downstairs. When I was 16, my bedroom was in the basement of a posh house in London, where my mother was the housekeeper. . . . Odd, this class business. Here's Upstairs Downstairs back again, Downton Abbey so popular.” ―Fay Weldon

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Product Details

  • Series: Habits of the House (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1St Edition edition (January 15, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250026628
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250026620
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #992,450 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Slaven TOP 100 REVIEWER on November 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I received this book as part of the GoodReads FirstReads program and it was one that I was fairly giddy to have won. As a fan of historical fiction generally and "Upstairs Downstairs" specifically I was more than ready to enjoy this one.

On the good side the book gives us a wonderfully open portrayal of the behavior of the landed class at the time. No secret is too dark, no behavior too perverse to be placed on display. We're introduced to some of the notable personages of the time and the scene is littered with tidbits of historical amusement from the Boer Wars to steam powered autos. Weldon also treats us to a myriad of period vernacular that causes us Midwestern types to scramble for our dictionaries. If nothing else it's worth reading just for the language. Organizationally the book's short (almost tiny) chapters are each date-headed and titled helping the reader keep track of a sometimes tangled chronology. This is the sort of book you can take in small bites if you need to and come back without losing much of the thread of the narrative.

On the other side, there's just not quite as much story as one would expect from a period piece. Readers who anticipate a Classical level of detail from this novel are bound to be disappointed. It is a novel very much boiled down to its nucleus, a traveling sideshow rather than a museum piece. Additionally, while our author uses some amusing bits of language they do at times seem forced and inconsistently timed. Her characters whip out a colorful phrase about every 20 pages and then revert to current standard English until it is once again time to find an appropriate period idiom to insert.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Clearly written to attract those of us who enjoyed Downton Abbey and
the new Upstairs Downstairs series, this is the first of a trilogy of
books by one of the writers (and a noted novelist) of the original "Upstairs Downstairs" Masterpiece Theater TV series from the 70s, and is set very much in the same world, right in Belgrave Square in 1899, as the Boer War is about to begin.

I kept wishing I were watching it instead of reading it, as excellent
British actors would have given me the conviction that these
characters had far richer inner lives than the author gives them.
Instead they are all, both servants and aristocrats, made to seem petty,
superficial, neurotic, shallow, silly, and occasionally vicious. There was
hardly a single person I could identify with or respect. The
predominant theme of the complete lack sexual virtue in supposedly
conservative Victorian times seems very tired. The servants were
mostly reacting to their masters' behavior, and not much involved in
their own stories. It made me long for Rose Buck and Lord Bellamy. I
imagine that one of John Hawkesworth's novelizations of Upstairs
Downstairs might be more engaging for those still longing to return to
that world, or possibly one of Margaret Powell's books, from which
that series was adapted, might be more satisfying.

Habits of the House is an easy read, and smoothly written, and I'm sure
there will be many who will find it enjoyable.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Crabby is definitely how I felt trying to slog through this pastiche of a late Victorian/Edwardian class drama. The premise sounded entertaining - another Downton Abbey/Upstairs Downstairs society novel, the drama of the season, a marriage of convenience, the lives of the staff supporting the drama above-stairs. What's not to like?

Everything, really.

I was put off within a few pages. The characters, both upstairs and downstairs, are obnoxious and unlikeable. The descriptions of the unclothed bodies of both adult children in the earliest chapters and the sexual advances between maid and master were jarring to someone expecting an authentic period drama in Victorian style. It reads like Henry James fan fiction! Though this is touted as 'the thing' for people craving a class drama fix while waiting for season 4 of DA, it misses the essence of what DA is: a gentle, satisfying melodrama with LIKABLE characters. Fay Weldon's creations fail to evoke anything other than disdain or mild revulsion in the reader, at least in my experience with this novel. I didn't care if the family survived, I didn't care about the marriage prospects of Arthur or Rosina, and I didn't care about their parents. The downstairs staff was wooden and uninteresting as well. After forcing myself through half of this book, I finally threw up my hands and admitted defeat. And then read some Henry James.
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Format: Hardcover
I didn't dislike this book because it's not 'Downton Abbey'. (As a matter of fact, I'm in the minority of despising Downton Abbey - that sentimental wallow in an Edwardian-filtered-through-21st century, soap opera.)

No, what I disliked about HABITS OF THE HOUSE was its hollow characters; scatty attention to social convention of the era, and erratic, unbelievable plot(s). I expected more from Fay Weldon. If there's an author able to cleverly deflate the 'Downton' balloon, it would be her, I thought. But how disappointing this book was.

Given what I've read about the late-Victorian/Edwardian era, I think it was a real stretch to accept that an aristocrat would have tolerated even his second son marrying an illegitimate woman, even one with money. That circumstance, I thought, was stretching mid-Victorian aristocratic tolerance of money marriages, a little far. So, the marriage of the eventual Earl of Dilberne with Isobel, the illegitimate daughter of an actress and a coal mine owner, was an unbelievable challenge for me. Worse, though, was Isobel making a point of saying that because his plays made her laugh, Oscar Wilde's personal life was nothing to her. "I feel sorry for the poor man... His plays did make me laugh, and we should not hold an artist's life against his work." C'mon. THE sexual scandal of the late 19th century - and no matter what we, readers in the 21st century, now think of Oscar Wilde's personal life - is *nothing* to a late-Victorian aristocrat? - even one who's just aristocratic by marriage? Then there's Minnie, the American heiress, who elopes with a man for 3 months (not 3 weeks, which might be easier to conceal) and she isn't ostracized in any way from society thereafter?
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