The British books continue! And this time, I ended up reading two books that centered on the upstairs-downstairs relationship in British estates during the early 20th century. It was interesting to compare and contrast fiction to nonfiction and to feel like a bit more of a period expert while reading historical fiction.
Servants by Lucy Lethbridge
I read this book for all the wrong reasons. That cover is so appealing, and the title just screams "Read me if you enjoyed Downton Abbey!" I realized after I started reading it that a lot of period pieces have portrayed this delicate balance between upstairs and downstairs with incredible accuracy. Unfortunately, that meant it didn't feel like a lot of new information. I also realized that I usually read nonfiction with at least some sort of biographical plot. As a strictly informational book, I missed having an overarching story and strong characters to follow. I read it all though, a chapter at a time- It was a well-written and researched (but not a can't-put-down or compelling) read.
Cavendon Hall by Barbara Taylor Bradford
I haven't read a novel in a while, and I certainly didn't pick this one for its literary acclaim. I just wanted an enjoyable, light read, even if that meant relying more on the setting than on the writing. Cavendon was riddled with unnecessary repetition due to the author's seemingly innate belief that the reader can't remember even the most essential details from previous chapters. The writing style also erred heavily on side of telling instead of showing, creating very little imagery and very obvious descriptions. And most puzzling of all, the story seemed to take on too many story arcs and characters, conveniently wrapping up significant developments of the plot and completely forgetting side stories so that the story could move on without a sense of finality or satisfaction. This book has all of the abhorrent drama of Downton Abbey, but all of the glamor and intrigue as well. And so I ignored all of its shortcomings and just enjoyed having a book to read. But I don't think I'll be reading the rest of the series!
While I was reading Servants, I was reminded of other books and shows set in this time period. Tyneford deals with the influx of Jewish refugees who came to Great Britain looking for work during WWII, and Upstairs Downstairs, set during the same time period, touches on the increasing difficulty of finding good servants leading up to and during WWII.
Upstairs Downstairs revival (Netflix)
I came upon this unexpectedly while browsing through Netflix. I recognized Claire Foy, who plays Queen Elizabeth in The Crown (wasn't that a good one?), and once again let the WWII rich and poor description pull me right in. Upstairs Downstairs is a revival of an original BBC show mentioned in Servants that ran under the same name in the 70's. It's only two seasons, but it's certainly entertaining!
The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons (2012 review)
As soon as I reached the end, I seriously considered picking it up and starting it all over again. It's Downton Abbey with The Guernsey Literary Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society and Sound of Music all bundled together. I loved the style of writing- every time I picked it up from the very beginning, I was there.
Elise, a young Jewess bourgeois from Vienna must leave her family and life of luxury behind to seek refuge in England as the Nazis rise in power. She is granted a work visa and offered employment as a maid at Tyneford House, a large estate by the sea. The war progresses and Elise finds strength and love through her heartache as the fate of her family is uncertain and the residents of Tyneford feel the war edging closer and closer.
It's somewhat based on true events, the author having gained her inspiration from Tyneham House (an actual estate on the Dorset Coast in England requisitioned during WWII) and stories from her own Great-Aunt who, like Elise, managed to escape Nazi Europe by becoming a “mother’s help” in England.
I loved all of the characters- Elise especially. She is a strong, resilient woman. And the story was powerful, providing perspective of the lack of communication and information during that time period, the tragedy of war for a Jew rejected by her own country, and also a glimpse into how changes brought on by the war were forced upon British high society and changed their way of life forever.
And after all of this British overload, it's still the genre I'm most drawn to! The next two books on my to-read list fit the same build. I'll branch out soon, but not quite yet- where reading is concerned, I'll heed that old adage about "too much of a good thing" :)