It turns out that Christmas Pudding really isn't all that Christmass-y and would be perfectly well-suited to read during any time of year. The story centres around Amabelle Fortescu's short-term rental, Mulberrie Farm in the Cotswolds, and an extended group friends who drop by for one reason or another. One couple, Sally and Walter, have recently become parents to a baby girl and in stereotypical upper-crust fashion, reserve the right to not become too attached lest it all go pear-shaped. In contemplating the cost of engraving a sterling silver cup with the baby's name...
'I say, I do hope she lives all right, Sally.'
'So do I, you know. After all the trouble I've had, one way and another, it would be extraordinarily souring if she didn't. However, nanny and the charlady between them are battling for her life, as they say in the papers, like mad, so I expect she will. The charlady knows all about it, too, she has lost six herself.'
Paul Fotheringay desperately wants to be recognized as a serious author but his latest book Crazy Caper has the masses in fits of laughter, not at all the response he was hoping for considering its tragic tone. After some advice to try his hand at a biography he decides to research volumes of work by the Victorian poetess, Lady Maria Bobbin. How convenient that the volumes now reside at Compton Bobbin, a country estate close to Mulberrie Farm, occupied by the formidable Lady Bobbin and her two young adult children, Roderick 'Bobby' and Philidelphia.
If you have never had any exposure to what life was like for the Mitford girls whilst growing up in their own country pile you might find the characters in this book completely mad. But if you've read The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters there are many instances when you can easily imagine certain incidents may very well have happened....
"'...Where's Mabel, then?'
'She's just looking for still-borns in The Times,' said Christopher Robin. 'I'll fetch her - oh, here she comes through.'"
Funny stuff indeed but I realized something part way through the book. While I adore a farcical play or television show for the two hours it takes to feature on stage or screen I can't take it for days on end during the time it takes me to get through a book. It's probably why I just could not get on with Benson's Mapp & Lucia either. The baby talk in that book was simply too irksome and there was a form of secret language in Christmas Pudding that made me groan when it would pop up. All the over the top twittering, hand-wringing and arm-flapping belied the cool or smoldering glances I have come to expect in my aristocratic reading adventures. I wanted to smack the simpering Philadelphia for her waffling back and forth about which man to marry every other minute. Why does a woman barely past the training bra stage have to marry anyone?!
Christmas Pudding was Mitford's second book and written when she was only 28. Supposedly she would laugh herself silly while writing it, masking real-life events and friends in her fictional tales. I, on the other hand, felt like someone on the outside looking in and didn't quite feel in on the joke. Given just the right mood combined with the time to read such a book in one or two sittings all would be fine but otherwise I'm afraid not. But all is not lost because The Pursuit of Love written years later was definitely worth waiting for.