Thursday, June 30, 2016

Abdication by Juliet Nicolson (2012)

This book is like a rummage sale (or, because it's set in Britain, a jumble sale; interestingly, the world "jumble sale" was first coined in the 1930s).  If you rummage around long enough in the jumble that is this book, you'll find everyone and everything English that made 1936 a year to remember (blackshirts & Jews, the Depression, the Berlin Olympics, a Hunger march, etc. -- and of course the abdication of the title).  Jumbled together are far too many characters, each with their own plot; they all zig zag around one another, to and fro, in the manner that soap opera stretched over a few weeks or months do best, and that novels of this size can't quite make happen.  But, like a jumble sale, there are some treasures to be found - these are unfortunately hidden amid a pile of dingy old socks and a paint-by-number by your dead grandma.  It really is those treasures that will make you finish this book.  The character of Evangeline Nettlefold, the fictional school days American friend of Wallis Simpson, is a weird and slightly repulsive creation to say the least - she could almost have been a character in the latest realization of American Horror Story, but for me at least that made me want her to be the main character all the time; Nicolson really missed an opportunity here to first write the entire story from her strange point of view, and to use that point of view as a laser beam into Mrs. Simpson and her circle.   That is a literary fail.  Evangeline is jumbled together with all those other characters - Philip and Joan, May and Hooch and Mrs. Something or the other who is a blackshirt fascist and whose 12 year old daughter doesn't want to be one, and May's Jewish relations, and Julian and his mother, and on and on and on (Oswald Mosely even makes a magnetic appearance). Culminating, of course, with the King and Mrs. Simpson.  

  Luckily, the book is sort of short, so it wasn't  too much of a slog. If you like this time period and setting (I do) then this is at least worth a passing glance.


My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This is a jumble sale of a book; jumbled together are altogether too many characters, each with their own subplot. The book and all those plots zig and zag back and forth over and under one another until by the end, the whole book is like the jumble sale at the end of the day, a heap of mess. Also like a jumble sale, there are some treasures to be found - but these are unfortunately hidden amid a pile of dingy old socks and a paint-by-number by your dead grandma. It really is those treasures that will make you finish this book. The character of Evangeline Nettlefold, the fictional school days American friend of Wallis Simpson, is a weird and slightly repulsive creation to say the least - she could almost have been a character in the latest realization of American Horror Story, but for me at least that made me want her to be the main character all the time; Nicolson really missed an opportunity here to first write the entire story from her strange point of view, and to use that point of view as a laser beam into Mrs. Simpson and her circle. That is a literary fail. Evangeline is jumbled together with all those other characters - Philip and Joan, May and Hooch and Mrs. Something or the other who is a blackshirt fascist and whose 12 year old daughter doesn't want to be one, and May's Jewish relations, and Julian and his mother, and on and on and on (Oswald Mosely even makes a magnetic appearance). Culminating, of course, with the King and Mrs. Simpson. And they each have a story to tell; I think in 1976, this would have been a monstrously large soapy epic, with a glammy sparkly cover (maybe a tiara?) a la Judith Krantz; but in these days of literary economizing, Nicolson's book is cut down to a few hundred pages, not nearly enough to contain all these characters and their stories. Less is not more.

That said, it's shortness means less of a slog to get through. If you like this time period and setting (I do) then this is at least worth a passing glance.



The author is the grand daughter of Vita Sackville-West; I don't know about writing ability (I've liked the few books I've read by Sackville-West far more than this book), but knowledge of these kinds of people and this time period and that upperclass setting are definitely something passed down from grandmother to granddaughter.  

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