It was book club this afternoon; the book we have been reading was ‘Take Six Girls’ by Laura Thompson, and it was a biography of the Mitford sisters, Jessica, Nancy, Pamela, Unity, Diana and Deborah. These six women and their less well-known brother Thomas, were the daughters of a minor aristocrat, Lord Redesdale. As young women they had celebrity status, and all went on to lead interesting and sometimes controversial lives.

  • Nancy ( 1904 –  1973) wrote many novels, including Love in a Cold Climate.
  • Pamela  ( 1907 –  1994) had John Betjeman in love with her
  • Thomas  (1909 –  1945) died fighting in Burma, and apparently like some of his sisters was a fascist
  • Diana  ( 1910 –  2003) married into the Guinness family but left her husband for the fascist leader  Oswald Mosley; she too was a supporter of Hitler
  • Unity Valkyrie ( 1914 –  1948) in love with Adolf Hitler and died nine years after a suicide attempt
  • Jessica  (1917 – 1996) writer and communist who spent most of her adult life in the USA
  • Deborah Mitford ( 1920 –  2014) married  the Duke of Devonshire

If you don’t know anything about them you can see that they were an extraordinary and fascinating family, so you would imagine a biography of them would be fascinating too. There is a mountain of information about them, contemporary and retrospective, and  Nancy, Jessica and Deborah were all writers too.

A biography of them was published in 2001 by Mary S. Lovell, The Mitford Girls, the Saga of a Family, and in 2007 Diana’s daughter-in-law, Charlotte, published letters which the sisters had written to each other. However the book we were reviewing was ‘Take Six Girls‘ by Laura Thompson…

Well, it was unanimous… none of us like Thompson’s book, and all of us were critical of it. It seemed very confusing, especially if the person reading it was new to the Mitford family; one of us even read several books by Nancy and Jessica in the hope of getting to grips with who everyone was. Nick names were used, characters from novels were mentioned as if they were real people, and ancestors and other relations were brought in to further complicate things.

One of us described the writing as ‘patronising’, another said is was like an undergraduate thesis, someone said it needed a severe editing. We felt it was too indulgent, ambiguous, and with the author’s imaginings and thoughts and beliefs written almost as facts and then used to argue the case for something else. We are all well-read, and yet there were words used which were so obscure we were reaching for our dictionaries – for what point? Too impress us or baffle us? Someone said the author had swallowed a thesaurus!

We might not have liked the book (some of us didn’t manage to finish the book!) but we certainly enjoyed getting together and talking about it!

On the menu for future meetings:

  • Devastation Road by Jason Hewitt
  • Nation – Terry Pratchett
  •  The Spy – Paulo Coelho
  • I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith

Plenty of variety there – and no doubt there will be plenty of variety in our opinions… or maybe not!

 

 

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