London, Capuchin, 2012, 159p
Last year, my mother read an extended biography of the Mitford sisters, and regularly updated me on the information she has learned about the family of socialites. I was intrigued, so when I stumbled upon a novel by one of that multitude, I thought it might be time I learned more.
Sophia Garfield is a sophisticated young woman of the upper class at the outbreak of the Second World War. She lives with her husband, with whom she has a marvelous arrangement that involves Sophia having a lover and he entertaining a woman who comes across as a religious lunatic. When she accidentally stumbles upon a secret within her house, Sophia is enlisted as a spy, and finds herself torn between the desire to show off to her friends and an uncertainty about who she can trust.
I knew I'd love Pigeon Pie from the opening line - it is witty, intelligent, and sharp. Although Nancy lived the high life, she clearly found it very entertaining and uses the upper classes as great fuel from which to be inspired. In part, you can see her own experiences in the novel, as she laughs at the ridiculousness of those Brits who supported the Nazi. She mocks the selfishness and naivety of those who sit in the Ritz and drink tea whilst discussing politics, when they seem to be so oblivious of what is really taking place in Germany.
The whole novel feels a little like a farce, with Sophia's strange domestic set up, the way she trips and falls into a career in espionage, and the coming and going of her friends in parliament. And yet, beneath the comedy is a serious commentary on national socialism and the outbreak of war in 1939.