When waiting for a friend to deal with a tradesperson, while I was visiting for afternoon tea — that’s how civilised I am; I go to “tea” at people’s houses now — I picked up this book from her coffee table and dove straight in. I was most distressed when she returned a mere few minutes later, because I was already so immersed into the story that I did not at all want to leave it.
Happily, I have had this book on my TBR shelves for several years, along with a few other Eva Ibbotson novels — she’s an author I have long known of, and heard good things about, but have never read — and so I immediately abandoned the book I had been reading, even enjoying, and devoured this one in the next couple of hours.
The story of Anna, a displaced Russian emigre following the Revolution who finds herself penniless, and with a family to help support, in the England of the early 20th-century, this utterly charming book is an exploration of social mores, of class dynamics, of the consequences of war, and is also a denunciation of eugenics, all wrapped up in a light and wish-fulfillment-esque romance about a chambermaid (but, no ordinary chambermaid!) who catches the eye of the lord of the manor.
The romance aspect is sweet and lovely, even when the inevitable misunderstanding makes the hero into an irritating asshole, and for that alone, this book would be worthy of high praise. But the undercurrent of social commentary turns it into a — and there is no other world for it — masterpiece of the art, reminiscent of Jane Austen, in many ways, and author who also always had a lot more going on that was immediately evident on the surface of her romantic tales.
It’s just… excellent.
I have several other Eva Ibbotson books on my TBR shelves, but most of them are kids’ books. Still, given how great this book was, I am going to have to invest in even more of her adult offerings, I think.
TBR DAY 172: The Countess Below Stairs, aka The Secret Countess by Eva Ibbotson
GENRE: Historical Romance
TIME ON THE TBR: 6 years.
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.