It’s wonderful to be back in Australia after a two-year hiatus (thank you, Covid). This is my time to relax, recharge and work on the sequel to The Silk Road. We’ve spent two weeks in Sydney and visited beaches (Coogee Beach, this was just after the volcano erupted in Tonga and the waves were massive as far south as this), museum, art galleries, and more delicious cafés and restaurants than I can mention. Which doesn’t sound like I’ve been working much, but one must sneak up on the muse. But now I’m back in Brisbane and it’s time to get to work.
While here I finished a book titled The Bookseller’s Secret, by Michelle Gable a dual-protagonist story featuring a fictionalized account of Nancy Mitford’s war-time experience in a London bookshop and a modern-day novelist with writer’s block (Katie).
I’m a big fan of Nancy Mitford and I’ve read at least four of her books, so the premise of the book intrigued me. Nancy was the oldest of the famed (and infamous) aristocratic and beautiful Mitford sisters and a successful novelist and biographer. But during her time in the bookshop, she had recently had three failed novels and now had a severe case of writer’s block. During the war, she decided to write a memoir and this (now missing and Katie’s new obsession) memoir is the crux of the ‘secret’. Nancy formed a salon during the war with several social and literary elites including her long-time friend, mentor and competitor, Evelyn Waugh. It is her friends who encourage and needle her into writing said memoir.
I found the writing average at best. The dialogue often felt forced and the character Katie self-absorbed and unreasonably pushy. However, the depiction of Nancy’s time during the war years, her penury, her desperate need to write, and the onset of her long-term love affair with ‘the Colonel’ was fascinating. More Nancy and less Katie would have made it a better book. The writer acknowledges this went from first draft to published in one year during Covid, so there’s that.
One of the best things about it was a tiny point: the owner of the modern-day bookshop curated libraries for individuals. A four-year-old girl was receiving a curated library for her birthday (albeit a shelf in her bedroom with room to grow). My four-year-old self would have loved to have such a library!
Other novels featuring the Mitford sisters I recommend reading, or listening to, are The Mitford Murders books by Jessica Fellowes.
Nancy Mitford’s most popular books are:
The Pursuit of Happiness (novel)
Love in a Cold Climate (novel)
Don’t Tell Alfred (novel)
Madame de Pompadour (biography)
The Sun King (biography)
Frederick the Great (biography)