Publication date: June 2018
Review, short version: One rose out of four.
Review, long version:
As I was reading Those Wild Wyndhams the word esoteric came to mind.
Esoteric: Intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.
The author, Claudia Renton, describes her book as “a project that has taken some eight years from inception to publication,” and that’s a lot of time on a book that, in my view, only a relatively small number of people would appreciate.
Readers need to be interested in:
- England in the 1860s to post World War I, including The Gilded Age (1870s to 1900).
- England’s upper class, particularly women of the upper class.
- Big books, and this one weighs in at 458 pages.
Since I could check all three, I was in.
Unfortunately, only as far as page 153.
And it wasn’t as big a book as I’d thought. From the total of 458 pages, subtract
- 71 pages of notes
- 10 pages of bibliography
- 25 pages of index
No wonder this took Renton eight years.
My problem is that, ultimately, the main characters just weren’t that interesting. For the most part they were just – silly.
I know it’s not fair to judge people who lived 100 and more years ago by current standards, but I found it impossible to find empathy, and difficult to find sympathy, for people who were so rich that the parents give their eldest daughter and new husband a house as a wedding gift.
And not just any house; this house:
These were people whose preoccupations included spending money, “bemoaning the impossibility of finding good staff,” moving in the right circles, marrying well, having children, having affairs, and having children with whom they’re having affairs.
And then giving some of those children names like Alfred and Edith, then nicknaming Alfred and Edith “Boysie” and “Little Woman,” and then giving the nicknames nicknames: “Bosie” and “Wommy.”
In the not-quite-half of the book I did read, I also got a bit weary of the Renton’s word usage. I’m all for an expansive vocabulary, but I found these a bit much:
Page 27: It is not too tendentious to extrapolate from this fundamental elements of her character.
Page 66: Mary and Arthur’s obvious mutual attraction, however, was not beclouded by the bavardage of “flirtation practice.”
The book’s title mainly refers to the three Wyndham sisters – Mary, Madeline and Pamela – who had plenty of drama in their lives, very little of it interest to me. But there was one good thing: The 10 feet x 7 feet painting of the sisters by renowned American artist John Singer Sargent in 1899, featured on the book’s cover, above.
I guess, in the end – well, by page 153 – “Bosie,” “Bets” and “bavardage” just did me in.