Monday, July 4, 2011

Snobs: A Novel by Julian Fellowes

I really liked this book.  That being said, this novel definitely caters to a certain type of reader.  Do you like Jane Austen?  Did you read Howard's End and not find it boring?  If you answered "yes" to both of these questions than Snobs might be worth checking out.  A lot happens in the novel, but it's all played out in a very calm and almost bland sort of way.  The action is minimal but the conversations and whispers behind closed doors are lengthy.

The actual plot of the book is pretty standard for a British society novel.  We've got our leading lady - Edith - a commoner/social climber looking to marry up regardless of love; and we've got Charles, our Earl Broughton, marrying the woman he loves no matter the consequence. She lets her newly-found title go to her head and the lack of love (on her side) in her marriage to escort her into an affair while he simply just lets her get away with everything, willing to forgive when she's ready to come around.  The story wouldn't be complete without a villain, which in this case isn't really an evil entity, but just the Lady Uckfield, Charles' mother, attempting to pull the puppet strings she thinks everyone has hanging off them for her to use.  Emotions are kept at bay as best they can be.  The illusion of appearance is of the utmost importance.

I love the concept that high society British refuse to give up the illusion of a happy appearance.  They work harder to keep everything looking "right" than they do actually making things better.  It doesn't matter the gossip that circulates or the actual truths that exist, if it looks happy and serene, they've achieved their goal.

I find this book very interesting because it seems to be taking a bi-polar view of modern British society.  On one hand, the story encapsulates British high society's struggle to hold onto the rigid rules and traditions of their past.  The level of decorum they still cling to, no matter how antiquated it might feel to the rest of the world, is intense.  The other vein of the story focuses on our narrator, an actor (gasp!) who marries up, exhibits all the proper manners for his high society acquaintances and ends up being brought into the confidence of one very great lady.  So, while shunning Edith, our social climber, our narrator is welcomed into a social circle he hardly belongs to - obviously there is no rhyme or reason to the snobbery of high society.

Another unique aspect of the author's style here is the use of his narrator, who seems to know everything that's going on whether he's present at the action he's describing or not.  His insight into the whole story even when being removed from bits and pieces of it is really intriguing.  He so perfectly captures the complete story even though none of it is really happening to him.  It's an interesting literary device.

The book was written by the author who penned the screenplay for Gosford Park (a great movie) and you can see a lot of similarities between the movie and novel.  Both are entertaining and subtle reminding readers and viewers that the Victorian Era is alive and well in the day-to-day lives of the English elite.

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