The Pursuit of Love
Inspired by Morning Coach, I recently noted down my Top 5 Favourite Books, and made a resolve to read them every year. Of course, I don't really need to re-read any of them - each of them has been so important in shaping my life that their contents have become a part of my personality.
Nonetheless, I think it's a good idea to constantly re-connect to what has inspired and formed you.
So it is that I am re-reading, for the fifth or sixth time, Nancy Mitford's exquisite autobiographical novel The Pursuit of Love. It's officially my favourite book of all time.
Now, I hear some of you gasp. How could he rate something so slight as his favourite book? But many of you will be familiar with my contention that the breezy and most easily read books are normally the hardest to write. In my humble opinion, Ms. Mitford is one of the great geniuses of the English Novel, and should figure prominently on every writer's bookshelf.
She is much, much funnier than Waugh or Wodehouse, though I think she probably rates equally with E. F. Benson, whose books she admired to the point of obsession. She is also a brilliant chronicler of upper-class Britain - probably the best. Her characters, mostly drawn from life, are always briliantly sketched, and the jokes are relentless.
Nancy said that it was growing up in a big family that caused all the Mitford sisters to cultivate humour, character and a great sense of fun. And indeed, its interesting to note that two of her sisters, Jessica Mitford and the controversial Diana Mosley, were also accomplished writers.
The Mitfords, of course, are these days something of an industry in their own right - there are countless biographies, collections of letters etc., and I understand that a Mitford obsession is de rigeur amongst certain classes of American.
My own fascination dates back to when I was a child and saw the first ever BBC adaptation of her two novels of childhood - The Pursuit of Love and the wonderfully named Love in a Cold Climate. I was instantly drawn into the peculiar Mitfordian world. The character Cedric, a flamboyant queen, I found particularly intriguing. One didn't see many overt homosexuals on Australian television in the early 80s. As far as I know this series remains criminally unavailable on DVD, and I still wait for the day when I can see it again.
Along with her lifelong friend, Evelyn Waugh (the bulky collection of the letters between the two is another favourite book of mine), Mitford saw that the only really great sin was being dull. Everything else was forgiveable if you were fun. It's a sentiment I can't help sharing, and its one that informs her delightful fiction.