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The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother And Me Hardcover – 16 Oct 2014

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape (16 Oct. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224096591
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224096591
  • Product Dimensions: 18.5 x 3 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 14,607 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"As classy and consuming a memoir as you’re likely to read all autumn." (Caroline Sanderson Bookseller)

"Prepare to be seduced by outlandish delights and strange creatures." (Sebastian Shakespeare Tatler)

"Sumptuous." (Daisy Goodwin Sunday Times)

"A vivid sketch of the extraordinarily glamourous society of Faringdon in its heyday, especially during the 30s." (Dinah Birch Guardian)

"Zinovieff is an entertaining and amiable companion on this, at times, uncomfortable romp through her family saga." (Sara Wheeler The Times)

Book Description

The extraordinary story of wildly eccentric people and the house they lived in.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Susie B TOP 50 REVIEWER on 19 Oct. 2014
Format: Hardcover
In Sofka Zinovieff's enticingly titled 'The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me', the 'me' of the title is Sofka; her grandmother is Jennifer Fry, the only child of Fry's Chocolate heir, Geoffrey Fry; the Mad Boy is Robert Heber-Percy - who, the author reveals, might or might not have been, her grandfather; and the Lord Berners of the title is Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson, an eccentric gay aesthete, who was Robert's partner and benefactor, and also a composer, artist and writer, who from the 1930s in his Oxfordshire home, Faringdon, entertained a whole host of the great and the glamorous, including: Igor Stravinsky; Diana and Nancy Mitford; Clarissa Churchill; Cecil Beaton; Cyril Connolly; John and Penelope Betjeman (whose horse was invited to tea); Gertrude Stein; H G Wells and his mistress, the mysterious Baroness Budberg, to name just a few.

At Faringdon, Gerald (who was fictionalised as Lord Merlin in Nancy Mitford's novel 'The Pursuit of Love') famously dyed his doves in a variety of rainbow colours and arranged amusements for his weekend guests' pleasure - but, we learn, he did not always feel in a social mood, and on one occasion when Robert was entertaining some dull hunting friends in the drawing room, Gerald made himself scarce so he would not have to talk to them. Realizing he needed a book from the drawing room, Gerald pulled a large hearth rug over him, crawled into the room as if he were a strange animal, retrieved his book, and crawled out again. When Robert later asked him why he had behaved in such a peculiar fashion, Gerald replied: "I didn't want to draw attention to myself.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By F. M. Stockdale on 28 Oct. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This beautifully written and intriguing book, about the strange lives of the 20th century occupants of an Oxfordshire manor house, is delightfully easy to read. One might have thought that we had heard the last of the Mitfords and their close associates (Jim Lees Milne and Evelyn Waugh, Vita Sackville-West and Adolf Hitler), but no, here they all are again, this time centred round Gerald, 14th Lord Berners (Lord Merlin in The Pursuit of Love) and his hugely entertaining lover, the 'Mad Boy'. One wonders if the Fuhrer could ever have imagined the extent to which the minutiae of his very few encounters with English society figures would still be being chronicled after nearly a century! We never hear of Napoleon having a quiet supper with Georgiana Devonshire.
The author, who finally inherited their house, describes their extraordinarily mixed lives with candour, but also with sympathy, trenchantly making the point that the last unchallenged prejudice is against the privileged. One especially unexpected revelation is the Mad Boy's role in the death of his lifelong foe, Cecil Beaton!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Richard Brown TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 21 Dec. 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What do you do, if you are an academic, working in Greece, with a young family, committed to a free and academic life away from a stuffy, hidebound Britain, and you are suddenly left a large house and estate in Oxfordshire by your gay grandfather whom you didn't much like? And not just any old estate, but one made famous by Lord Berners, composer, writer, painter, aesthete, who lived there with your grandfather as a gay couple during the first half of the century? And when you turn up to receive your inheritance you are met by the nephew of your grandfather who had expected to inherit the estate, and a fiercely possessive, emotional and manipulative housekeeper in the Mrs Danvers mode? You will be expected to carry on the traditions of an English country estate, to give orders to the estate workers and gardeners and manage everything without any experience of such a complex operation. This was the situation that faced Sofka Zinvovieff.

She didn't just inherit an estate, she also became the custodian of a cultural history and heritage. Lord Berners was friends with the artistic avante garde - Gertrude Stein, Stravinsky, Dali, the Sitwells, some of the Mitfords, Frederick Ashton, Cecil Beaton, etc., as well as writers such as John Betjeman, Maurice Bowra, Cyril Connolly, Noel Coward; he knew the society hosts too, such as Sybil Colefax and Lady Cunard, and had a host of high-society women friends such as the Lygon sisters and the Marchesa Casati. His house parties were as famous as his eccentricities and many friends found Farringdon, as the house was called, a place to escape to.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Philip Baldwin on 11 Jan. 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having read Mark Amory's worthy biography of Lord Berners a few years ago, I was not sure that it was necessary to re-cross the threshold of Faringdon House. However, the title of Sofka Zinovieff's book intrigued me, especially as the Amory biography dealt with the post-Berner years at Faringdon in a mere two page postscript. Also, I was seduced into buying this book by the splendid Amazon reviews - every one giving five stars.

Zinovieff writes with a beautifully assured style. There is no need for me to repeat here the synopsis of the story; other reviewers have dealt with this admirably. The delight for me was that characters in the book and the events which surround them are painted so vividly that I was able to imagine having been there and witnessed first hand just what went on. The author pulls no punches, and at times ventures into fascinating detail. I will leave future readers to discover this for themselves!

Perhaps the most fascinating character is 'The Mad Boy' - Robert Heber Percy - the 'black sheep' of a highly respectable upper-class family. In relation to him, the story intriguingly leaves one or two fundamental questions unanswered. However, since all the dramatis personae of the time are now dead, we probably never will know the truth. To make sense of what I am saying, and to understand the title of my review, you will need to go out and buy the book!

When it arrived, like other readers I was amazed by the book's sheer physical weight. It is printed on high quality paper, with beautiful illustrations throughout, and is a joy to hold. For this reason I urge you to buy the book and not the Kindle version. I hope you gain as much enjoyment from it as I did.

Full marks, Sofka Zinovieff, for a beautifully crafted work. Five stars, unhesitatingly.
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