First published in 1931, Highland Fling is the first novel by Nancy Mitford and the first I have read, determined to read them in order. What a breath of fresh air it was after reading two detailed historical novels, this light frothy concoction made me chuckle.
An amusing observer of manners, Mitford excels at that peculiar type of incomplete conversation between two people gossiping about mutual acquaintances in which each completes the other’s sentences. This is a novel of its time, upperclass wealth, upperclass lack of wealth, centuries of families and traditions the roots of which have been forgotten, and the juxtaposition of bluff country old-timers with Bright Young Things from London. Highland Fling is set in a Scottish castle, a closed-room setting, loved by crime writers, which Mitford uses mercilessly to compare and contrast. It is a world with which the author knows well and at which she gently pokes fun.
Young artist Alfred Gates returns from Paris to London and visits his newly-married friends Walter and Sally. Sally’s parents are called away and the three friends go to Scotland to host the parent’s shooting party. As well as the shooting guests, including stodgy old-fashioned military and aristocratic types, the younger guests include Jane Dacre who fancies herself in love with the effete Albert. Albert, who dresses in brightly-coloured flamboyant clothing which offends the traditionalists, searches Dalloch Castle for examples of Victorian decorative accessories which he photographs for his book. While the shooting guests are up at dawn and tramp around the moorland, the youngsters rise at midday and drink champagne for breakfast. Teasing, of old by young, is inevitable with the hapless victims suspicious but unable to produce proof of their tormenters. Mitford mines the humour by placing both groups in close proximity and letting them clash, on a shoot, and a visit to the local highland games.
As a first novel this gave me a taster of Mitford’s acerbic wit and observation of social manners, acute in its sharpness of both old and young, wealthy and not, though crude in some instances.
‘Highland Fling’ by Nancy Mitford [UK: Vintage] Buy now
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