This book is a catalog of the habits, attitudes, and milieu of the British upper classes, so detailed and specific that it might have been written by a cultural anthropologist. It’s clear that the author, Julian Fellowes, is member of this society, for no one who is not could possibly pick up the infinitesimal details of behavior that he provides. The book would make a good field guide to the species; if you wanted to try to “pass” for an aristocrat you could do worse than to read this book carefully.
Fellowes is not a cultural anthropologist, but an actor and screenwriter. He wrote the screenplay for
Snobs tells the story of Edith Lavery (whose family name was once Levi), a social climber who marries up. Her ascendancy, her downfall, and her eventual rehabilitation are chronicled in clinical detail. While I greatly enjoyed all these tidbits (must stash away all this information for when I get to meet the Queen), it made for kind of a bloodless novel. I never developed any particular affection for any of the characters, despite Fellowes’s continual insistence on how nice everyone really was.
The book is written in first person, narrated by a friend of Edith’s, a character who is both an aristocrat and an actor (sound anything like Fellowes himself?). This character is our tour guide through the land of the upper classes, and his commentary decodes it all for us. Occasionally, however, Fellowes abandons this narrator in favor of a traditional third person omniscient narrator who looks out from Edith’s eyes. The effect is jarring, and I didn’t like it. It’s just plain breaking the rules.
(Book 49, 2007)