USA Today bestselling author Eliza Knight brings together a brilliant dual-narrative story about Nancy Mitford—one of 1930s London’s hottest socialites, authors, and a member of the scandalous Mitford Sisters—and a modern American desperate for change, connected through time by a little London bookshop.
1938: She was one of the six sparkling Mitford sisters, known for her stinging quips, stylish dress, and bright green eyes. But Nancy Mitford’s seemingly dazzling life was really one of turmoil: with a perpetually unfaithful and broke husband, two Nazi sympathizer sisters, and her hopes of motherhood dashed forever. With war imminent, Nancy finds respite by taking a job at the Heywood Hill Bookshop in Mayfair, hoping to make ends meet, and discovers a new life.
Present Day: When book curator Lucy St. Clair lands a gig working at Heywood Hill she can’t get on the plane fast enough. Not only can she start the healing process from the loss of her mother, it’s a dream come true to set foot in the legendary store. Doubly exciting: she brings with her a first edition of Nancy’s work, one with a somewhat mysterious inscription from the author. Soon, she discovers her life and Nancy’s are intertwined, and it all comes back to the little London bookshop—a place that changes the lives of two women from different eras in the most surprising ways.
My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invite and to the publisher for the paperback copy for review.
Nancy Mitford was a name from history I knew mainly for being one of the Mitford sisters (there were 6 daughters and 1 son with Nancy being the eldest sibling). I’ve also followed the Heywood Hill bookshop on Twitter for some time without being really aware of its Mitford history.
The first thing to say is that I absolutely loved this book. Even without the bookshop connection (and I love stories featuring bookshops or books), Nancy’s story told in her first person voice was captivating. Together with the inclusion of (fictional) extracts of her letters sent to such friends as Evelyn Waugh, the story reveals her unhappy marriage, the scandal caused to the family by her two sisters’ support for fascism, the disgust she feels for their closeness to Hitler as well as the general ups and downs of life, friendships, and perhaps most poignantly of all, her feelings of failure both as a writer and personally. The amount of research involved must have been tremendous but it all adds to an authentic story, both in dialogue and narrative. Nancy may have been a ‘Bright Young Thing’ in her youth but much of her adult life seemed consumed by family drama and personal troubles. Despite all this however, I was left with the impression of a resilient and spirited, albeit sometimes selfish but ultimately good hearted woman, doing her best in difficult times especially during the London blitz of WW2.
This is a dual time story covering the period from the early 1930’s to the mid 1940’s with a present day strand featuring an American book curator Lucy and her search for the identity of a particular handwritten dedication by Nancy in one of her books, The Pursuit of Love. Whilst this part of the story didn’t quite capture my imagination as much as the historical aspect, Lucy was an engaging character and I was intrigued to know if she would be successful in her quest. I just thought it unfortunate that she didn’t really feature enough to make much of an impact on me and it was always Nancy and her life that I was keen to get back to.
Eliza Knight’s writing is superb, she clearly has an exceptional talent for storytelling. Fact has been blended with fiction to create an absorbing story around the life of a famous figure which is both fascinating and entertaining. At the end of the book there is a very interesting author note as to which parts/characters were fiction and also giving a brief Mitford family history. After reading this I was interested to find out more about Nancy and her life after this story ends. Nancy Mitford seemed to be a complex character and this story reveals the many layers of what is known of her personality. I’m sure that fans of historical fiction would greatly enjoy The Mayfair Bookshop, I certainly did and would love to read more by Eliza Knight.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eliza Knight is an award-winning and USA Today bestselling author. Her love of history began as a young girl when she traipsed the halls of Versailles. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and Novelists, Inc., and the creator of the popular historical blog, History Undressed. Knight lives in Maryland with her husband, three daughters, two dogs and a turtle.
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