Reading The Pursuit Of Love again was a joy. Fanny, the heroine, claims to be an ordinary child, but her cousins, the Radletts, are extraordinary and through Fanny’s eyes we get to meet and enjoy their complete eccentricity. The family feel real because they are based on Mitford’s own (extremely eccentric) family. Each character is enthralling and infuriating.
What strikes me about this book as I re-read it is how different it appears now than when I first read it. Then I found the Radletts completely charming and the only thing I remember disliking about Linda, the main character, was her treatment of her daughter. This time round I was as much amused as charmed, but I was certainly gripped enough to continue reading.
This isn’t strictly speaking a YA book. The first third of the story takes place in the world of children and teenagers. Then both Linda and the narrator, Fanny, marry and move into the world of adults, but it is still very much a book that can be enjoyed by a teenager. The writing is brilliant – light, faintly ironic, witty and yet sympathetic. You love the characters even while being exasperated by them, because you feel that the narrator, and the actual author, love them too.
It is as much another country to me now as it was when I read it in the 1970s. Then pre-war, upper-class England was impossibly beyond my reach, although I might meet people who remembered it. Now it is even further away, and with more knowledge of the historical context it’s possible to feel a great sorrow for the characters and what lies ahead of them.
It is the little things that make the book so special – the fact that the bolter is called The Bolter, that when she says ‘darling’ it’s pronounced ‘dulling’, the way Uncle Matthew grinds his teeth, the casual use of ‘Hons’ to describe people who are ‘in’. All the little details mount up to make this a completely lovely book.
I will say again that I don’t think it is technically a YA book. However, there is nothing in it that would shock a current YA reader. And the theme, which is, as the title says, the pursuit of love, can be a very YA theme. But it’s treatment, and the age of the protagonists for the latter two-thirds of the book (in their thirties at the end) preclude this from being true YA. A good book, though, and definitely worth reading.
Gill-Marie writes YA mystery/romances as Gill-Marie Stewart. As Gilly Stewart she also writes women’s contemporary fiction. The first book in her YA series about George and Finn is Music and Lies (try out the first chapter here).