#BookReview ‘The Blessing’ by Nancy Mitford #satire #historical

The Blessing by Nancy Mitford tells of the wartime romance and marriage of young Englishwoman Grace Allingham and dashing Frenchman Charles-Edouard de Valhubert. Both are aristocratic but from completely different backgrounds. How, you wonder, could this marriage possibly work. Mitford has great fun with the gulf of understanding between the two nationalities, still recovering after the war. Nancy Mitford

At the beginning of the war, Grace’s fiancé Hughie goes off to fight. Despite being engaged, she falls head over heels in love with the flirtatious Frenchman Charles-Edouard and marries him. A fortnight after their wedding, Charles-Edouard returns to Cairo. Nine months later, Grace gives birth to a boy, Sigismond. The war years pass by. Grace ‘lived in a dream of Charles-Edouard, so that as the years went by he turned, in her mind, into somebody quite divorced from all reality and quite different from the original.’ Even when peace is declared, Charles-Edouard’s return is announced and delayed, announced and delayed. Always, there is a gap between expectation and reality. Not all is as it seems.

When he finally returns, he collects his wife and now five-year-old son and takes them to live in France, first at the family seat Bellandargues in Southern France, later in Paris. And now the English/French comedy begins as Grace, and her English Nanny, adapt to French cuisine, foreign customs and the shockingly decadent manners and unspoken rules of French society.

When Grace discovers the truth of her husband’s idea of marriage – including a permanent mistress and various casual affairs – she returns to her father’s London home with Sigi in tow. And now the funniest part of the novel begins. As both sides of the family encourage the couple to reconcile, Sigi is convinced he will benefit materially from having two separate parents, gaining more attention, more gifts and general spoiling. And so he proves himself efficiently cunning in keeping his parents apart.

It took me a long time to work out the meaning of the title, so I won’t give away the secret here. I found the start slow but the question of if and when Grace will realise the truth of Charles-Edouard kept me reading, until I realised I wanted them to reunite. The funniest characters are Sigi – who I wanted to slap whilst at the same time cheerfully cheering him on – and Nanny, who stoutly refuses French food and cooks in the nursery over a spirit lamp.

Written from personal experience – Mitford both lived in Paris and had a long affair with a Frenchman – I found the humour unsentimental and non-PC so perhaps the funnier for that.
BUY THE BOOK

Read my reviews of Mitford’s earlier novels:-
Highland Fling
Christmas Pudding
Wigs on the Green
Pigeon Pie
The Pursuit of Love
Love in a Cold Climate

If you like this, try:-
How to Stop Time’ by Matt Haig
Stanley and Elsie’ by Nicola Upson
Mothering Sunday’ by Graham Swift

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