A hilarious and touching novel from Laurie Graham; the fictional diary of Mrs Simpson’s best friend in pre-war London.
Laurie Graham’s hilarious novel is the fictional diary of Maybell Brumby, a wealthy American widow who arrives in London in 1932 and discovers that an old school friend is in town; Bessie Wallis Warfield, now Mrs Ernest Simpson. Maybell and Wally are made for one another. The one has money and a foothold in good society, courtesy of a sister who married well. The other has ruthless ambition and enough energy to power the National Grid. Before the year is out Wally has begun her seduction of the Prince of Wales, and as she clambers towards the throne she makes sure Maybell and her cheque book are always close at hand.
So Maybell becomes an eye-witness to the Abdication Crisis. From her perch in Carlton Gardens, home of her influential brother-in-law Lord Melhuish, she has the perfect vantage point for observing the anxious, changing allegiances for and against Queen Wally, and the political contours of pre-war London.
When the crisis comes and Wally flees to the south of France, she insists on Maybell going with her. 'Are you sure that's advisable, darling?' asks the King. ‘Of course it is,’ snaps Wally. ‘She’s the Paymaster General.’ Maybell’s diary records the marriage, the Windsors’ exile, and the changing complexion of the Greatest Love Story. It takes the sound of German jackboots at the gate and personal tragedy to make her close its pages for the last time.
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Scarlett OíHara she may not have been, but according to this hilarious (and fictional!) account of Wallis Simpsonís rise and fall, there was more than a passing resemblance between the two irrepressible shrews. Apart from sharing a penchant for the seemingly unattainable (usually male) and a certain knack for making do in times of adversity, both had an uncanny ability to drive their nearest and dearest to hell and back.
Laurie Graham is back on top form with this diary of Maybell Brumby, Baltimore belle and hideously rich widow, as she travels to London in 1932 to visit sister Violet, married into the royalty-serving aristocracy. Bumping into old school-friend Wally and her second, somewhat dull husband Ernest, Maybell begins a roller-coaster journey from generous friend to unofficial lady in waiting.
Life is a whirl of lunches, suppers, house parties, shopping and names. Who went where, what they wore, what they said, what they ate. Just when you think you canít take anymore of the endless frivolity, Maybellís diary takes on a darker edge, as the portents of doom come home to roost.
Grahamís remarkable skill of laying bare the psyches of Americans and Brits is never more evident. Here, the gauche and vulgar new world collides amusingly, and then dangerously, with the emotionally stunted, boorish nobility, who--to Maybellís disbelief--apparently prefer dodgy plumbing, surly staff and under-heated homes. Pithy one-liners, scattered liberally, lift the whole sorry debacle and make it not just entertaining, but insightful.
Wally herself leaps out of these pages, initially as a sadly insecure social climber desperate for acceptance and later as a blue-print for the wicked witch of the west. The royal lap-dog follows her devotedly, begging for crumbs of affection, but it is the supporting cast, as always with Laurie Graham, that makes the difference.
It is left to one of these to sum up. In response to Maybellís comment that: "Itís a pity a sweet little king like David canít be allowed to marry the woman he loves", a rather more cynical friend of Wallyís says: "If you ask me the real pity is that he doesnít love a better woman". Oh, how times have changed. Or not? ---Carey GreenReview:
‘Told in the breathless style of Anita Loos’s “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, but with the waspish humour of Nancy Mitford, the novel captures the mood of the era with near-flawless accuracy.’ The Times
‘As fresh and tangy as Wally's favourite dinner party dessert, strawberry sherbet. Maybell Brumby is a wonderfully sassy creation.’ Sunday Times
‘The story of Edward, Mrs Simpson and the abdication crisis might be familiar enough. Graham's gift is imagining the details.’ Daily Mail
‘Refreshing, honest and very funny. It’s the best kind of popular women’s fiction – enjoyable without being thoughtless, smart without being superficial.’ Scotsman
‘As fascinating for what it says about the interwar traffic between British and American high society as the ensuing scandal at court.’ Independent
‘The story is an absolute pleasure to read from start to finish. By infusing her sharp satire and meticulous social observation with a certain sweetness, Laurie Graham proves herself a master of showing without ever needing to tell.’ Time Out
‘A vivid, creative storyteller.’ Times Literary Supplement
Praise for Laurie Graham:
'She has wit and insight to match Nick Hornby, and the entertainment value of Helen Fielding.' Nicolette Jones, Independent
'A marvel. Graham’s style is riveting, hilarious one-liners falling in quick succession.’ Anthea Lawson, The Times
‘You can’t help being charmed by a woman who describes being sexually smitten as “the same pleasant shock as the first time I touched a frog”. Wildly funny.’ Sunday Times
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Book Description HARPERPERENNIAL, 2005. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 7146752