Friday, 3 August 2012

A special mid-moving review: Nancy Mitford's The Sun King

Dramatic recreation of my present mood
I am the child of an academic, which is like being an army brat but with books instead of fighting in that when I was a fledgeling my parents moved house a lot. According to my mother my response to each move was to lie down on my bed and have a hysterical crying fit until she just picked me up and put me in the car.

The moral of this story is: I WISH THERE WAS STILL SOMEONE WILLING TO PICK ME UP AND PUT ME IN THE CAR. I am currently suffering through the thirteenth (this is a conservative estimate) move of my life, and my first as a fully lone adult, and I am deeply not enjoying the experience. I keep discovering new, unpleasant facts, like: when you are a grown-up, cardboard boxes are not providentially spawned by your parents for your use! You have to go out and forage for your OWN boxes, which may lead you to mistakenly assume that the Staples website measures in centimetres instead of millimetres and then come home to find out that you are now the proud owner of twenty moving boxes FOR ANTS.

Also, it has been borne upon me that you should not ever move during an Olympic Games, unless you are MAD or STUPID. On Monday I ended up running in random circles around London Bridge Station, dragging a suitcase and an enormous bag of comedy hats, while twenty panicked crowd-control officials chased after me shouting NO! STOP! YOU CAN'T GO THAT WAY!

It is all really awful, is what I am saying. I wish I was enormously rich and sedentary, just like... (get ready for this segue)... Louis XIV of France, who just happens to be the subject of the book I have been reading!

Yes, I am still reading books. Some may wonder how I have the time, but let me tell you, it is the only thing keeping me from just gnawing off my hand out of sheer desperate insanity.

You probably also think that when I say have been reading a book about Louis XIV, this means that it was a very serious historical tome. Hahaha, no. The book in question is Nancy Mitford's The Sun King, and it bears about as much relation to historical fact as Captain Jack Sparrow does to your average Somalian pirate.

Nancy Mitford was a very clever woman who made a huge success out of pretending to be an idiot. All of her novels are the last word in calculated frothy foolishness, and I am delighted to say that her non-fiction is exactly the same. The Sun King is a 'life' of Louis XIV that is 5% historical fact and 95% naughty gossip about people worshipping the devil and hiding babies and being rude to each other on staircases. It's a version of history that's all personality and anecdote rather than who fought who when, and as a consequence I've never come across a history book that seems so much like a society novel. It's all extremely amusing and nice.

Mitford's writing is full of deliciously cutting apparent non-sequiturs and wicked hints that leave you dying for a real explanation. My favourite passage is a description of Louis' brother Monsieur's second wife Elizabeth, who was
a great Teutonic tomboy; delicate little Monsieur seemed to be his wife's wife. When he first saw her he told his friends, despairingly, that he would never be able to manage. However, by dint of hanging holy medals in a certain place, rather impeding any pleasure Madame might have felt, he did manage and they had three children. After that, by mutual consent, they slept in separate beds.
Let me be honest with you: I have been trying to work out the precise location of those medals all week. The whole thing is totally foolish and wonderful and completely what I need right now, in my hour of stress. I want GOLD FURNITURE and AFFAIRS and SECRET POISONERS and SEXY NUNS and people who can just click their fingers and get their servants to convey all their belongings from one of their residences to the next. And luckily for me, The Sun King has it all. It's the ideal moving house antidote, and I give it a frothy

3.5 stars.

And now I need to go. Excuse me for the short review, but I have a busy schedule involving wrapping up  half-empty bottles of sauce in bits of old newspaper while I finish off a bag of gone-off pumpkin seeds and some slightly suspicious dried apricots.

Wish me luck, and I'll see you (metaphorically) in the new flat. Meanwhile, if you have any servants to spare, please send them over.

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