The Pursuit Of Love
After receiving a veritable sackful of books for Christmas, I gave my fellow City Lickers a few very varied choices for our next read. These ranged from cosy crime to modern world fiction, but as Katy had read ‘every Agatha Christie book ever written’, and the soon-to-be-released-as-a-film, Room, was off the list too, I plumped for Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love, which came highly recommended to me by my sister.
Never having read any of her works - and only having a vague idea about who she was (a feminist before her time? a high class society lady?) - we set off on a journey of upper-class family life in interwar Britain.
The tone of the novel is lighthearted and chatty, and its easy-to-read nature was appreciated by all members of the City Lick team. Mitford’s narrator, Fanny - who is being brought up by her childless aunt as her mother runs away with a succession of different men - recounts her childhood holidays spent with her cousins in the English countryside. They grow up together talking about sex, love (generally interchangeably), class, hunting, and war.
The main narrative centres around Linda, the sensitive, pretty, and at times vivacious cousin who is madly and passionately in love with the idea of being in love. This manifests in her first marriage to a middle-class banker, whose ‘new monied’ family are sniffed at by her ‘landed gentry’ father. Her second marriage - to a Marxist revolutionary who drags her to the France/Spain border to help look after the Spanish refugees of the war lost to Franco - also ends with the realisation that if she ever did love him, the relationship has run its course. A frenzied, drawn-out affair with a French aristocrat in Paris then ensues, which leaves her pregnant and shipped back to England as the Second World War breaks out.
While we all enjoyed the occasional witticisms and the eccentricities of many of the characters in this quick read, we also found it to be an interesting insight into a world to which we could scarcely relate. The interwar period still involved girls - teenagers, young women - being ‘let out’ for a year; taking a London flat with their chaperones in order to be paraded around male suitors at parties. But it was also a time when women were beginning to work, to be allowed to have ideas and, in some cases (Fanny’s, not Linda’s) a real education. It was a time when the upper classes had vast swathes of land but little actual money and therefore none of the technology (good central heating systems, for example) that the uppity middle-classes enjoyed. The tension between the two is palpable in this book, with the Lord of the Manor character - Uncle Matthew - frequently professing a fondness for the working classes who seemingly know their place and are no threat to his position or worldview.
A particularly topical aspect of the novel is also the depiction of Britain’s relationship with the rest of Europe. Stereotypes, mistrust, and outright hatred of anything and anyone ‘foreign’ abound. At this time we may have imagined that frictions between England and Germany, for example, would have been particularly hot, but it was apparent that anything perceived to be somehow unEnglish was also seen to be a great threat or a source of dislike too. The political and class divide on this matter was also clear; the upper classes would have no good word to say about Europe, the intellectual Marxists were sympathetic to revolutionary struggles, the middle-classes kept their eyes closed and mouths shut, ready to make deals with anyone, regardless of their politics. At a time when Brexit is being debated, it was fascinating to see how much closer we, as a country, are to those that surround us now - largely due to globalisation and increased mobility.
The book gave us quite a lot to think and talk about, and we did so against the backdrop of The Ivy Market Grill. A bit like the upper classes in The Pursuit of Love, The Ivy’s declining reputation as the place to be seen has forced it to reinvent itself lately. As such, it has come up with some slightly cheaper ‘sister’ restaurants dotted around London which offer a variety of modern European food and grills on a pre/post-theatre and a la carte basis. As we arrived quite early, we all went for the pre-theatre menu which is relatively good value (two courses for £16.50). The potted salmon was particularly good, and the bang bang chicken was spicy and fragrant - the portions perfect for starters. The mains we tried - sea bream, the risotto, and steak - were a bit like Linda’s first husband; good looking and pleasant enough but without much substance. The champagne sauce with the fish was bland and over-thick, but the sea bream itself was cooked nicely. The steak was fine-cut and a little tough, but a good-sized portion.
While we may not visit again for the food alone, then, the cocktail list was inventive and the interiors a beautiful reminder of how gorgeous art-deco decor can be. The surroundings also certainly complemented this particularly special night as we celebrated Meera’s 30th birthday; presents and cake rounded a good night of books, cocktails, and laughter.
Chosen and written by Liz.