I’d heard of the Mitford sisters but didn’t know much about them until I visited the Cotswolds several years ago. On a bicycle ride during that trip, we got an introduction to their story from our tour guide not only because their family home was in the Cotswolds village of Swinbrook, but also because we ate lunch that day at the Swan Inn, owned at the time by the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, the last surviving Mitford sister. That’s why I adore the two books I describe here.
“The Bookseller’s Secret” by Michelle Gable
If, as I do, you like books about books, this one's for you. The story shifts back and forth between WWII London and the modern-day, and includes the real-life author Nancy Mitford, making it an unputdownable read for me. Though I’d heard of the Mitford sisters, I'd never read any of Nancy Mitford's books. This story details her struggles to write another successful novel as she is supporting herself working at the Heywood Hill bookshop during the war. Her wit is one of the main attractions of these chapters. That and glimpses of characters like author Evelyn Waugh. Remember "Brideshead Revisited?"
Like Mitford, the modern fictional author Katie Cabot is enduring a similar dry spell, three years after penning a best seller. As her story unfolds, we see the parallels in their lives and struggles, but that's not the best part. For me, the best part is the mystery about a possible missing Nancy Mitford manuscript, an autobiography. Did she really write one? The mystery unfolds against the backdrop of Nancy's fascinating life during and after the war. Hence, my decision to pick up "Pursuit of Love" which is supposedly her fictional version of those years.
“The Pursuit of Love” by Nancy Mitford
Nancy Mitford really did work in a bookshop in London during WWII, and in 1945, she wrote "The Pursuit of Love." The sisters in the book are based on Mitford and her sisters, though it is not a one-for-one match. The foreword in the edition I read was written by her sister Jessica in 1982. All in all, it was a fascinating and often LOL read.
How much of the story, especially the details about the main character’s French lover, are true to life? It is a fact that Nancy Mitford did have a long-time affair with Gaston Pawleski, an associate of Charles de Gaulle. Did she meet him in a French train station as depicted in this novel? Did he visit her in London during the war? I could likely find the answers by spending a few hours on the internet, but I think I’ll just remember the tales told in Nancy’s book and the more recent “The Bookseller’s Secret.”
You know a novel has stood the test of time when it has been turned into an Amazon Prime series, and that’s what has happened with “The Pursuit of Love.” For me, thoughts about both books continued to surface in my brain for several weeks. In my mind, that’s the mark of a good story.
If you find these descriptions interesting, I recommend you start with Michelle Gable’s fictionalized account.