Tuesday, July 20, 2010

All about books: Love In A Cold Climate

My quest to get a few classics under my belt in 2010 continues unabated. The latest orange-and-white cover to be cracked was Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford. I had strong responses to this book. To start with, it was all Cold. By the end, it was Love.

I confess that I began the book back in April. Read two chapters. Stopped. Devoured three crime thrillers – one good, two unsatisfying. I only came back to LIACC because there was nothing else. I’d even read a biography about Kurt Cobain – complete with downward heroin spiral, slightly mad lyrics and a sheen of dirt – before I could bring myself to revisit Nancy.

I’m glad I persisted. Hers is the kind of voice that grows on you. The archness, the wit, the cold, clinical skewering of the world around her. What seems like a capering, lightweight dance of a story reveals itself as a carefully constructed cotillion.

I confess that I love the idea of the Mitfords. I read The Mitford Girls by Mary S. Lovell (2001) years ago and was captivated by the entire clan (listed here in no particular order) – Diana the fascist, Decca (Jessica) the Communist, Unity the Nazi, Debo the duchess, Nancy the novelist and Pam, the rural Mitford. There was also a son, Tom, who died in Burma, but he didn’t really do it for me in quite the way 'the gels' did.

There is much of the Mitfords in Nancy’s book. Enough to suggest that my next foray into Mitford world should be her first book The Pursuit of Love (I know, I’m all back to front) followed, perhaps, by Jessica’s Hons and Rebels.

I’m not sure what it is about this minor aristocratic family that fascinates me so much. Perhaps the fact that there were so many of them that they were able to have a family member involved in many of the major movements of the early 20th century. The sheer volume of women? The mischievous sense of humour that seems to be genetic? The inherent charm they seem to have had in spades?

Whatever it was, it’s there in Mitford’s book, and makes it immensely readable. It didn’t feel ‘hard work’ enough to be a classic – more like smart, savvy chick lit from a previous generation. She’d have been one hell of a grandmother.


  1. There are so many classics out there that I've never read. This is one of them. I'm not sure that I could stick it out through the cold section but, hey, maybe I'll give it a go. Thanks for nudging me in its direction.

    p.s. What does a fybro look like?

  2. Yes, I was seduced by the Mitford's, too. I think I also read the books out of order (but loved them anyway), and have a biography of Nancy written by her niece-by-marriage Charlotte Mosley, which I've read a few times (unusual for me to read most books more than once).

    Their wit, their savoir faire, the sheer languid elegance of them....not sure why, since I wouldn't want to be LIKE them exactly, but as larger-than-Life characters, both in and out of the books, they certainly captured my imagination. Definitely a classic. :)

  3. I might have to give this book ago, i have just finished the book I was reading and was looking for a new one :)

  4. @Tracy - must try the bio. Read Lovell's book if you haven't - it's an absolute cracker.

    @Kelly @Rosalind - it's definitely worth a try. Persist through the first bit when it all seems a bit mad and the rewards are great.

  5. Loved all the Mitford books, read them while an impressionable teenager. Especially loved the irascible, politically incorrect father!

    Have you read Cold Comfort Farm? Or my all-time favorite, I Capture the Castle, read a battered copy while staying at a friend's beach cottage in Tiverton, perfect!

    Another amazing book found in the bookcases of my most literate friend (in Sydney!): A Time of Gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor. Must must must read.

    Rule: all finds are better from a friend's bookcase.

  6. I love your paragraph that begins " I'm glad I persisted' and ends with cotillion. Although I admit I did have to look up the word cotillion. Really beautifully expressed.

    I am mortified to admit I have never ever read anything by any of the Mitfords. I seem to know things about them from other sources but have never actually read any. I must take a leaf out of your book and remedy that. After Kurt Cobain, they must have been a breeze!

  7. You capture the essense of them very well in that there review......thank you for reminding me of their gracious sass!

  8. I am OBSESSED with the Mitfords and like you, I don't really know why. I have read virtually every book there is about them. I read a really interesting one about Diana a while ago and was intrigued by her loyalty and her innate coldness as well. There was a really good one by Charlotte with a publication of their letters which really captured them.
    Must stop.
    Mitfords are fascinating. Must drag the books out again.
    I always felt so sorry for Nancy despite her cruelty, she was so witty and clever and suffered so much.

  9. Just came from a bookstore who are having a Penguin promotion...buy 4 and you get a black canvas bag with classic penguin cover on it...bring on the classics! Love the enthusiasm for reading from all these comments...and your inspiring post Allison!!

  10. Thanks for the recommendation - I've had Love in a Cold Climate on my shelf for years. Maybe it's time to take it down, dust it off and open it at page one.
    I've also collected Jessica Mitford's memoirs - so maybe I should get into those too.
    Booktopia has a Popular Penguin competition now - buy one for a chance to win twenty of your own choice! - here are the details http://blog.booktopia.com.au/2010/07/02/win-20-popular-penguins-how-read-on/
    All the best!

  11. Thanks for the tip Anonymous - I'm totally in for that competition! I love Booktopia.

  12. What a great review - and what a coincidence as I have only just finished and blogged on this book too. they are a fascinating family - maybe slightly too much has been witten about them now - but yes I think you are right that it is their power as witnesses to the 20th century that make them so compelling. I have linked to your review in on my blog - and it is great to discover your blog. Thanks for sharing

  13. When I went back to school as mature age student I got introduced to The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald, what a great book it was & the movie wasn't half bad either. Two other great classics I would love to read but haven't as yet is To Kill A Mockingbird, have seen the movie & loved it. The other book is One Flew Other The Cuckoo's nest. Love your blog

  14. I also fell in love with the Mitfords when I was younger. I think it's probably time to revisit them so thanks for reminding me :)


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