Book Review … SNOBS by Julian Fellowes

January 24, 2009 § 10 Comments


I spotted SNOBS on the remainder shelf at B&N. I  might have otherwise missed it. However, knowing now how I treasure it,  I’m disappointed it was bumped to bargain status.  

The novel is narrated by an actor who is also a member of the British upper class, slightly titled, but upper enough to live without worry about an income. Comfortable in that circle and also game enough to take a turn in the actor and performance world, he tells the story of Edith and Charles, how he met Edith, how she came into his privileged week-end-in-the-country set though she was upper middle class.

Her parents sent her to the “right” schools to allow association with people she wanted to become, but those associations fell off after school. Nevertheless, Edith gets invited to a “weekend” and introduced and her beautiful looks don’t hurt as she carefully climbs over the heads of competing cousins and associates to snag Charles though it wasn’t a devious, premeditated snag.

Just as our actor/narrator predicted, Edith falls into deep boredom after months were her titled husband and their life in the country, tending to the land and buildings. Poor Edith.

It’s not so much Fellowes’s plot that compels; it is his examination of who is thinking what and how expressions, conversation, turns of the head, all of it, give sum to the lives of the titled he observes. And of the interloper (Edith) who makes it to the inner circle.

Yes, something happens. Particularly when a set of actors arrive to film a movie on the property of Charles and Edith Uckland and his parents, where the newlyweds are living.  Uproar. Funny? Um, no. Disastrous? No. Yes. Sort of.

The author keeps us at a safe distance; we are observers of each character, nearly able to predict if we pay attention how things will go.  But no, the book is not predictable. There’s some stuff to be learned here; there is plenty of cozy British-isms and a view on the culture and human behavior.

It’s odd when the author names brands or makes pop trash references. Though these don’t occur often in the book, they are “jarring” to see on the page up against all the long tweed skirted, herringbone jacketed characters that rise and fall throughout the story.

It is a story about character: my fave.

Julian Fellowes is also the author of GOSFORD PARK so if you haven’t read it or seen the movie, I recommend doing one or the other. I love the film which played in some of the art theatres but didn’t go splashy bigtime. The most difficult aspect of the screenplay is the melange of accents; you must listen closely as Upstairs and Downstairs mingle and mash in a mystery that’s quite alluring in its way.

Back to the book: I’ll give it a 10 since it suited my mood every night for two weeks (I read slowly at bedtime  and don’t squeeze in a lot of pages before I just can’t see.)  

I love British stories. I love good writing. It’s not the words upon words here that will draw you in but it is the stuff the author bothers to mention or explain. Really. So much carefulness and “correctness” through it all…

Fellowes is smart, hip, balanced (neither fey nor macho) in his story. He’s a sharp observer of the class from which he undoubtedly springs.  I am glad he’s decided to write the stuff down.

Not for everyone, this book. However, if you like Louis Auchincloss, Dominick Dunne, or Jane Stanton Hitchcock, then give Fellowes a whirl – he’s a better writer than all of the above except Auchincloss.

SNOBS goes on the shelf next to my copy of the movie GOSFORD PARK, as a reminder to anyone perusing the shelf that this guy has substance, on screen and on paper.

Score, as assigned today: 10

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§ 10 Responses to Book Review … SNOBS by Julian Fellowes

  • Bellezza says:

    I love British writing, too. Gosford Park was a wonderful movie, but I’ve read neither book unfortunately. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. By the way, I’ve so been enjoying PBS’ series of Wuthering Heights (which concludes tomorrow) and Tess of D’Ubervilles (which was the first two weeks of January). Those episodes make me want to pick up more classics.

  • qugrainne says:

    Thanks for the recommendation, Oh. Haven’t heard of either of these books. I do love the Brit stuff, so this will go on the list. Nicely written review, too.

  • oh says:

    Bellezza – thank goodness for PBS, right? I used to worry they would run out of British shows but between PBS and Netflix, I can maintain my British “fix.” (Now watching The Duchess of Duke Street.)

    Thanks, Q! This snowy (finally) weather seems utterly in keeping with British lit and movies somehow.

  • litlove says:

    I loved this book when I read it! So glad that you enjoyed it, too. It’s an odd mix, in a way, of rather elegant prose and a very gossipy subject, but the two come together tremendously well. I enjoyed it so much, and yet it had weight and profundity too, it wasn’t just a romp. Thank you for bringing it back to my mind!

  • anno says:

    Oh, this sounds like the combination of juicy and literary that is pretty darn irresistible. Onto my list it goes!

    BTW, have you read Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld? Similar themes, different perspective (high school girl) — it might offer possibilities…

  • jeanie says:

    Wow — I have to read this with my friend from Canada — we are our own two-person, long-distance book club! Anything Brit is a fave of mine and I loved the film “Gosford Park.” Thanks!

  • oh says:

    Litlove- I’m glad you mentioned the “gossipy” aspect – important! (also glad you liked it, too. Books can be a really personal thing sometimes, even depending on the mood and the lighting, etc. when one reads the book.)

    Anno – oh boy, we might have pumped this one up a little – I mean, you might start and say “what is she talking about …” but, if you can wrangle it at the library, then all the better. Yes! I read PREP. I don’t know what I was expecting. I found it a bit “cool” as in, the narrator seemed somehow detached from her narration, more like she was going through motions.

    Jeanie – a great idea to have 2-person book club. And, you HAVE seen the film Gosford Park – which rather gives you a clue about Fellowes topic overall. I’ll say no more!

  • anno says:

    Your reaction to PREP is much aligned with mine: the narrator definitely seemed curiously detached, almost to the point that I wondered how she ever gained entry to a place like Ault; and the ending disappointed me. Still, it seemed like an interesting portrait, and that kept me reading.

  • anno says:

    P.S. Hope you still have power!

  • oh says:

    A- yes, despite the ice and snow, the lights are on and though the schools were closed today, business wasn’t. So I moped to the office and stayed ’til the weather threatened us all again and we “limped” home in icey snow. Why is it always timed for rush hour?

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