Book review: Christmas Pudding

Nancy MitfordChristmas Pudding is another between-the-wars comedy of manners by Nancy Mitford. With scathing observation at times as sharp as Jane Austen, Mitford introduces a new character, Lord Lewes: ‘He was tall, very correctly dressed in a style indicating the presence of money rather than of imagination, and had a mournful, thin, eighteenth-century face.’ This is her second novel and features some of the personalities featured in her first, Highland Fling, though familiarity with the first is not essential for enjoyment.

The action takes place over one month around Christmas, the pudding of the title refers to Mitford’s mixture of personalities in two house parties in the Cotswold countryside. Paul Fotheringay, whose debut literary novel has been heralded as a comic farce, is desperate to escape London and find inspiration for his next book. Wanting to be taken seriously as an author, he settles on a biography of Victorian poet, Lady Maria Bobbin. When he is refused access to the diaries by the current Lady Bobbin he conjures a plot with her teenage son Bobby to masquerade as Bobby’s tutor over the Christmas holidays and so gain secret access to the diaries. And so Paul becomes part of a love triangle at the Bobbin’s home Compton Bobbin, involving Bobby’s sister Philadelphia and the honest, boring but reliable Lord Michael Lewes. The second house party, at the rather kitsch over-furnished Mulberrie Farm, is held by former prostitute and now society lady Amabelle Fortescue. Mitford’s characters move in the same overlapping social circles so it is inevitable that Amabelle and her guests Sally and Walter Monteath will socialize with some of the guests at Compton Bobbin.

Love is the central theme, true love, idealised love, upper-class arranged marriage and marriage for pragmatic facing-old-age reasons. As has always occurred in aristocratic circles, marriage is approached with a healthy dose of pragmatism making romantic love seem frothier and more idealised than ever.

This is light-hearted fiction and limited in its observation of characters; there is no upstairs/downstairs contrast here, which would enrich the social commentary. But the old and young are perfectly capable of condemning themselves out of their own mouths. Reading this novel will not change your life, but it will amuse you and the ending is not the easy way-out you may expect. My one criticism is that there are slightly too many peripheral characters with their own strings of plot.

Read my review of Highland Fling, Mitford’s first novel.

If you like this, try these:-
‘Sweet Caress’ by William Boyd
‘A Death in the Dales’ by Frances Brody
‘Mothering Sunday’ by Graham Swift

‘Christmas Pudding’ by Nancy Mitford’ [UK: Fig Tree] Buy now

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