It’s been an odd week, reading-wise. I can’t find within myself the will to stick to any story I haven’t already been through once before. As a general rule I don’t like surprises–more often than not they are unsettling and disorienting. So: no surprise parties, no drop-in visitors and above all else no twists in fiction. If I read a book that has a twist I’ll usually read unspoiled for about a third of the book, then I’ll jump to the end, find out the lay of the land when all is said and done and then I’ll flip back to where I left off toward the front of the book to read on. It’s a very odd method, but I know from past conversations I’m not the only one who does it. And it does save the grief of becoming too attached to a character only to have that person dead or turned villain by the end of things. But right now in the doldrums of the dead of winter I can’t bring myself to be even that adventurous. So I’ve been breezing through old Maeve Binchy novels in the same way I drive past the house where I grew up whenever we go back to Fort Wayne.
I did find a recommendation for books that are like Downton Abbey in Entertainment Weekly and it put me on to The House At Tyneford . Funnily enough, this book must have been repackaged to capitalise on Downton Fever because when it was first released it was called The Novel In The Viola. That leads me to wonder if we will see a spate of re-releases and renamed books set in old houses. Already the Downton Trend seems to be just ducky for the resurgence of Vita Sackville-West. Which is great if you haven’t spent most of your life completely annoyed by her. If I had to list the top 5 Literary People Who Drive Me Batty I’d leave three spots open for rotation, reserving two chairs in perpetuity for Ezra Pound and Vita Sackville-West. Yes, that is how much she bugs me. But apparently if you like Downton Abbey you’ll love her books. Her publishers say so! It’s funny, but I’ve always suspected that Tolkein disliked her too, given the fact that the Hobbit Villains in the Shire are the “Sackville-Bagginses”. That makes me chuckle.
Oh right. We’re talking about Downton Books and Upstairs-Downstairsy types of books. I should start my own recommendations, given the fact that some of the books I’ve seen elsewhere have only the barest resemblance to Downtown. From what I can tell, to put a book on the “It’s Like Downton” list you need at least one of these:
1. English Manor House
2. A main character in a below-stairs position
3. Intricate plotting about the goings on of the aristocracy.
4. Set in Edwardian times
Because honestly, some of the stuff on these lists is reaching way overboard. Based on the above criteria I soon expect to see things like Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Rebecca, Wodehouse’s Jeeves novels and The Wind In The Willows. (Extra points for The Wind In The Willows since it actually made a cameo in the first episode of Season 2 of Downton Abbey.)
Anyway, I am so far having fun with The House At Tyneford. Here’s hoping there aren’t that many surprises.