Top critical review
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on 21 October 2015
It took me more than six months to get through this book: it drove me to distraction and fury so that I would pick it up, read a few pages and then toss the book aside. I chose the book based on its blurb: "The summer of 1911 was one of the high sunlit meadows of English history but on the horizon lurked a gathering storm.". I was expecting something which would reflect the changes that were afoot in Britain's history in the few years leading up to the outbreak of the first world war. For me there was absolutely no sense of the shadow of the sub-title, and indeed I found the whole thing trite, with no real analysis of anything.
Joanna Trollope's contribution to the blurb describes the book as being "as page-turning as a novel" and therein lies one of the several problems with the book. It does read like a novel, with imputed thoughts and feelings for which there is no evidence. The writing style is gushing and frothy. More or less the entire focus of the book is the life of the aristocracy and upper classes, whether viewed from their own perspective or from that of the servants who waited upon them. For example, references to the passage of the Parliament Bill during 1911 are couched mainly in how inconvenient it was that people like Churchill had to forego some of the pleasures of the summer holiday to concentrate on their government work. Close to half the book is devoted to Queen Mary, crowned in 1911,and to Lady Diana Manners who was a deb that year and I couldn't help but think that the choice of year for the 'shadow' was driven more by these events than anything else. The epilogue to the book reinforced this feeling as I kept thinking that 1912 would have been a more appropriate year to analyse.
Overall then, this is lightweight stuff, and if the intention was to evoke the shadow of WW1 then for me the book failed miserably. Those with a serious interest in history should look elsewhere. This book's main thrust is the gilded life of the pre-WW1 upper classes and that has been done better.