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