- Also check our best rated Biography reviews
The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother And Me Hardcover – 16 Oct 2014
Customers who bought this item also bought
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
"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)
The extraordinary story of wildly eccentric people and the house they lived in.See all Product description
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
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!
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. And then there was Robert, 'the Mad Boy', so called because of his wild behaviour, twenty-eight years Berners junior, who lived openly with him at a time when homosexuality was illegal and the long shadow of Oscar Wilde's persecution hung over Britain. The house contained numerous photographs, letters, visitors books of these times, much physical evidenceof the rich life led there during the first half of the century, including the furniture and pictures, the accumulations of an aesthete over many years; for a writer such as Sofka, specialising in biography and anthropology, this was a treasure trove.
She organises the material into three consecutive parts: the first Lord Berners's time there with Robert; the second after his death when the formidable Austrian housekeeper Rosa moved in to take control of the house and gardens; the third when Sofka inherits. Over the years she finds an accommodation with the estate's traditions while shaking off the more restrictive elements - including Rosa, who threatened suicide - to make a life there for herself and her family. It's a richly told, well researched, beautifully written, unfailingly interesting account. It becomes not just the story of a house and its inhabitants but a slice of a particular kind of upper-class history, of a peculiar English sensibility, a glimpse from a fresh angle of cultural history during the twentieth century. It's a seamless blend of biography, memoir, history, family saga and photograph album - and, incidentally, reclaims another part of gay history. The production values - heavy, glossy paper, wide margins, integrated visuals, a ribbon bookmark, textual vignettes, decorative endpapers - are high, a book lover's delight. Altogether, it's a rather special book.
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.
Would you like to see more reviews about this item?
Most recent customer reviews