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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 14 May 2006
This not-quite-debut novel (Fellowes wrote several romance novels in the mid-'70s under the name Rebecca Greville, including "Poison Presented" and "Court in the Terror") ought to appeal to fans of his 2001 Oscar-winning script for the film Gosford Park. A straightforward satirical comedy of manners set among the upper classes of mid-'90s England and those who aspire to join them, the book is a frothy comic brew which skewers both parties with the kind of pitch-perfect subtle writing that it seems only the British can pull off. The story is quite simple, a pretty woman from an upper middle-class family whose mother has pretentions decides to ensnare a hugely wealthy and dull aristocratic man in order to "marry up" into the upper classes which still hold such a mystique and importance in British society. The man's mother, a formidable Marchioness aims to prevent this from occurring but fails. The young woman discovers that life at the top isn't as exciting as she anticipated and runs off with an handsome actor to great scandal. Will anyone find happiness at the end?

This is all more or less narrated by a semi-aristocratic actor (clearly very much like the author) who is able to move between all worlds due to his upbringing and career. He starts the book as a friend of the young woman and a very passing acquaintance of the young man, and ends up becoming a bridge between worlds and at the latter stages, a kind of discreet go-between. It is his penetrating sardonic insights and the witty formulations thereof which lend what substance there is to this otherwise straightforward love story. Much of the novel involves the narrator spelling out the unspoken rules of the game for the reader in deliciously mocking detail. The main flaw in most satire is that it is too broad or unsubtle, but here the narrator's mockery of the artificially preserved world of the aristocracy is all the more effective from its insider position. To be sure, the characters are mostly "types" without a whole lot of substance or depth to them (the boorish rich pig, the nasty arriviste, the brisk no-nonsense wife, the ice queen, the social climber, etc.), but that's kind of the point as well. A great deal of the satire is that these upper crust people have no personality, that they are all just filling the roles they've seen before them and imagine will extend after them forever. Ultimately, the book is somewhat bittersweet in that the writing is quite amusing, but one can't help but feel slightly sorry for how unhappy so many of the characters are (even if they aren't particularly deeply drawn). On the other hand, it's not too hard to feel like it's a case of them getting their just desserts...
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on 17 May 2006
This book is set in an upper class milieu with which I am not familiar - and to be fair, wouldn't want to be. The author is not exactly a revolutionary! He sends the upper class characters up, but does so with affection. Something I particularly liked was the long passages of explanation interpolated into the dialogue. There is a first person narrator reminiscent of the narrator of A Dance to the Music of Time. That is fine, but the author also describes the heroine's sexual experiences with another character, which the narrator cannot possibly have witnessed. This jarred on me a bit. However, I am not saying that the descriptions were bad in themselves. In fact, they convey everything we need to know in relation to the personalities of those involved and the relationship between them, without being pornographic in any way. This is basically a comic novel, but the plot moves at a reasonable pace despite the long (and enjoyable) explanations, and the ending is a satisfying one. I would not say that this is a profound book, but it contains some intelligent observations on life. An enjoyable read, provided you are not left wing and like social comedy.
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VINE VOICEon 5 August 2004
Although they might intermingle within the pages of Hello! the aristocrat and the A'list celebrity live in different worlds. However, Julian Fellowes has a foot in both worlds and, like many before him, his first novel is set within an environment he is familiar with. The plot is a sort of 'menages trois' (Julian's characters have a fondness for lapsing into French) but like Gosford Park the plot isn't that riveting, where Julian excels is in social anthropology. If you believed, like John Major, that we were on the brink of a classless society then let Julian reveal the truth to you as he explains little oddities such as the upper classes usage of their nursery nicknames throughout their life. Peppered with insights and seasoned with scandal but not over done, a rare treat for escapist reading.
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on 18 April 2010
I like being taken somewhere in a book I wouldn't normally go and that's perhaps why I loved Snobs. It gave an intriguing insight into the upper classes. How they behave, why they do so, what motivates them. We're not talking about the slightly rich here but a world most of us will never inhabit. I devoured Snobs feeling like a fly on the wall, lapping up the details of privilege and wealth. While the leading lady's motives were not always likeable, I certainly understood her now and then. In its entirety Snobs was not just a story (and it was a decent story which moved at a good pace but it's not a hard-hitting drama, more of a study of people) but also about settling in life, about wanting different things and being a different person as the years pass. For this reason, it's one of the few books that made me think about it a few days after I finished it. And I think a few clever observations will stay with me for a long time. Recommended for sure. Perhaps not if you want a thrilling ride, but for a gentle, clever think about society, it's a winner.
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on 13 November 2004
A thoroughly enjoyable book and one, I was surprised to find, that stayed with me longer than usual after I'd finished it - probably because beneath the humour and even despite the happy ending, it is quite sad. It seems awful that Charles, the heroine's decent husband, should suffer so merely because he is titled and rich but not interesting or clever enough, and I couldn't help feeling that the strength, intelligence and self-discipline of the Lady Uckfields of this world could sort out the entire planet, if only the business of snobbery didn't demand so much of their time and all of their resources.
The satire is beautifully done - it has bite, true, but Fellowes does not fall into the tedious and common trap of either despising or glorifying the people about whom he writes. The detail is glorious and funny. Strongly recommended - and I do hope he keeps on writing!
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on 24 February 2009
This was an enjoyable easy read, although I agree with the reviewers who point out that the first person narrative jars with a great deal of what could only be third person description.
As for the rest - I have decided that I am utterly bored with the assumption that we should all deride the Upper Classes. I will never be party to their world, but what the heck -they are patriotic, have a respect for History and tradition, cannot be bought (Cash for Honours, anyone?) and as the book makes clear, husband the countryside as opposed to Genetically Modifying it - ergo, they have not been replaced by anything better.
I know Mr Fellowes' has an entrée and all that but it is surprising how much of the detail and characterisation could have been adapted from a thorough reading of the 1982 `Sloane Ranger Handbook.' Nevertheless, this is nicely written, highly absorbing and entertaining stuff. It also contains what now looks like a highly astute bit of forecasting with the character of the `U' New-Style Tory Tommy Wainwright - a rising Conservative MP stuck at the end of the Major years, Wainwright could be a projection of the currently resurgent Public School `Progressive' Tory.
Lady Uckfield, by the way, is a superb literary creation and her son Charles a moving portrayal of sheer goodness.
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on 29 September 2015
Not sure exactly what I was expecting and bought this on impulse on the basis of Julian being the author of Downton. Wish I hadn't bothered, bland characters, story non existent, I plodded through to the end as I hate to start a book and not finish it.
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HALL OF FAMEon 8 June 2004
Unless you are as mean-spirited and humourless as a certain Guardian columnist, it's hard to resist the charms of this novel, by the scriptwriter of Gosford Park. The title is double-edged, both as dfescription and criticism, and so are the contents. Essentially a tale of social climbing it has as its heroine one Edith Lavery, the (probably) Jewish and very beautiful blonde daughter of an insanely ambitious mother who realises she must marry for money and succeeds in hooking a Duke. A simple, honest aristocrat he is terrible in bed and has a frightful mother, "Googie", but the worst Edith has to endure (besides the usual monstrous country house) is the "Name Exchange". Upper-class people spend their entrie lives talking about other upper-class people, and Edith has to learn how to name-drop and nick-name with the worst of them. Then a handsome young actor, so used to playing aristocrats, arrives with a film crew at the stately home, and Edith promptly leaves her dull husband to live with him. Yet she finds her new life not nearly as much fun as her old, in which unmerited fame brings sweet rewards to the trivial-minded.
What makes this simple update of Cinderella so pleasing is the wit and skill with which it is told. Edith's progress is observed by an actor who is sufficiently part of, yet detached from, the aristocratic milieu to understand and satirise it. Less toadying than Evelyn Waugh, Fellowes pulls off a remarkably benign and hugely funny portrait of an elite any sensible reader would run a mile from actually knowing. The monstrous Googie is a highly enjoyable portrait of a certain real-life Duchess usually slavishly portrayed as a fount of sweetness. One for both Cavaliers and Roundheads to enjoy.
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on 16 March 2005
I was expecting something frothy with a few pithy insights into a world that is largely opaque to most of us. I didnt expect such a well written, insightful novel with characters that even when at their worst are engaging. Perhaps because they demonstrate an insight into their own motives and the costs and benefits of their actions that makes them believable and sympathetic. Neither Wilde nor Mitford nor Waugh it stands its own as a classic study in the slow decline of the upper classes and their attempts to repel social climbers boarding their sinking gilded ship. Lady Uckfield alone is a classic character. A book I was sad to finish as I was so much enjoying reading it. I can't wait for the movie or tv series presumably written and starring Mr Fellowes himself as the narrator is clearly based on himself.
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on 20 June 2012
I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy this book at the start but I soon got stuck in and ended up thoroughly enjoying the way JF sent up some of the characters, described the manners and expectations of others and sympathised as appropriate. As others say, the 3rd person writing was a bit lost at times but it didn't detract from the enjoyment as far as I was concerned. For those, like myself, who do not belong to this elite gathering I feel this gives an insight into how the aristocracy have been brought up and value things that matter: although they may choose to differ with my opinion. In essence I thoroughly enjoyed the book, found it hightly amusing and like the aristocracy or not, they're here and here to stay so enjoy the book for what it is, a highly amusing and insightful piece of writing
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