Rating: 4 stars
At first, I didn’t think I was going to enjoy The Pursuit of Love as much as I did Love in a Cold Climate. It seemed very frivolous and silly, even bearing in mind it’s by Nancy Mitford. Although I already knew the characters from the second book in the series, I felt they weren’t very well fleshed out at the start of this book. I think I was expecting them to be more clearly defined as characters, as this was the book in which Mitford introduces them.
I found that I didn’t really care about any of the characters for the first 14 chapters. They felt too superficial. Not until Linda goes to France to assist Christian with the Spanish refugees feeling persecution under Franco does anyone begin to make sense. From this point on, for all her lack of worldliness, Linda becomes a channel for Mitford to express some serious points.
The broad caricatures of the country set Linda comes from started to seem like a ground against which the boldness of the next chapters stood out in relief. People are still exaggerated but events are more meaningful. I wonder, though, how far some of Mitford’s readership at the time the book was published would have gone beneath the surface of her satirical tone and thought about the things she talks about in the book.
Linda’s train journey through France is her emerging from the blanketed existence she has lived up until this point. The reality of working with refugees and finding them safe passage with their families isn’t anything Linda acknowledges, she is still a vacuous socialite in many ways, but her eyes begin to open to how the world works, and in particular how her little corner of the world works. There is a slight hint of Hemingway about this part of the novel, and not just because Linda is among Communists fighting the Spanish Fascists. There is the same intensity of the personal moment as experienced by one character against a backdrop of global concerns.
Linda truly comes to life when she leaves Perpignan for Paris and encounters the delicious Duc de Sauveterre, a character I liked in Love in a Cold Climate and wanted to know more about. The description of Linda realising that she truly loves someone, rather than being frivolously in love with them, was perfect. The acknowledgement that the feeling of love brings with it a feeling of fear struck me most of all.
But she was filled with a strange, wild, unfamiliar happiness, and knew that this was love. Twice in her life she had mistaken something else for it; it was like seeing somebody in the street who you think is a friend, you whistle and wave and run after him, and it is not only not the friend, but not even very like him. A few minutes later the real friend appears in view, and then you can’t imagine how you ever mistook that other person for him. Linda was now looking upon the authentic face of love, and she knew it, but it frightened her. That it should come so casually, so much by a series of accidents, was frightening.
I remember the first time I knew that I loved someone. I felt intensely happy, but at the same time frozen and frightened because it was more real than anything I had felt before.
I enjoyed the way Mitford brought to life Linda’s reluctant capitulation to love, through her constant protestations that she would be leaving Paris the next day and the subsequent morning telephone call that showed she wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry. And although the situation isn’t ideal, Sauveterre being the man he is, Linda’s acceptance of the moment and taking all the happiness she can get in the moment while the moment is there also seemed very true of love.
She is a different woman when she returns to London. She isn’t the silly girl that she used to be, and she tackles life in a different way.
The return to Alconleigh is a slight return to frivolity and daftness, but it makes an effective contrast to the beauty and sorrow of Linda’s story.
My favourite quote from the book is
Life, she thought, is sometimes sad and often dull, but there are currants in the cake and here is one of them.