I realised as I gatecrashed my sister’s book club in Cologne once more that it had been nearly a year since my last visit. So nearly a year since I last experienced the pleasure of chewing the fat about a book for a few hours (with a rather copious amount of alcohol mixed in this time, too!), and it reminded me how much I’ve missed it. I really need to get involved in one in my local area, or better still start my own. One of these days I’ll get around to it.
I am possibly in a minority of one in that I have never seen an episode of Downton Abbey. Not even a fleeting glimpse. I’d heard of its creator Julian Fellowes, the author of our book choice Snobs, but never having seen any of his work, I was in the unique position of going into his novel completely blind, and with no previous experience to influence my thoughts about it. Which is a nice position to be in really, with no existing prejudices to cloud judgement.
And I quite enjoyed it. The plot, such as it was, covered well-worn territory. Girl marries man for money, then wonders if she did the right thing, has affair, then realises the error of her ways. Pretty standard stuff. But Fellowes uses this threadbare story as a vehicle to go into vast, often very humourous observation about the British upper-class/nobility. It’s almost a field guide to the nature of aristocracy in this country, sketched by a man who knows both its foibles and strengths and isn’t afraid to talk about both.
I can’t say I was anything more than pleasantly distracted by the novel, but that can be a finer way to pass the day than some books have been. Talking about it in the group, I was struck by how much the class system still has a role in British society, how you can be defined by how much money your parents have, or where you went to school. In Germany these distinctions are less defined and more importantly, less cared about. In some ways I envy them that, but I know I’m guilty of a bit of class stereotyping as much as the next British person. This novel propelled this discussion, which was interesting and insightful, and for that I’d recommend it.