New Books: Royal Fiction Written By a Rothschild and the Latest Julian Barnes Novel on the Belle Époque
When even the streaming services enters fatigue-phase in these COVID days of finding things to occupy your time with, it’s good to know that there are promising novels to read
On our second week of community quarantine, you'll find plenty of opportunities to sit down with a good book. Here are two titles that should be of interest—tell us what you think!
House of Trelawney by Hannah Rothschild
If you loved Downton Abbey, The Crown, and Upstairs, Downstairs; and wondered what that whole world of royalty and the peerage would be like today, this is the book for you. Written by a member of yes, that banking family, the author is also the first woman to chair the trustees of The National Gallery (2015), and was awarded a CBE for services to the arts and philanthropy in 2018. So you can be assured she knows this milieu of England’s super rich and titled.
Set in 2008, during the financial recession; at the center of the story is the Trelawney Castle in Cornwall, and the family of the Earl of Trelawney. For more than 800 years, the family has called this section of England home, but thanks to dulled ambition and the financial ineptitude of generations of earls, the Castle is in ruin, and the family teetering on collapse.
Both satirical and moving, you’ll love this eccentric, dysfunctional family; as the novel opens a window on the reality of English aristocrats today. There’s Kitto, the well-meaning but inept current Earl; and there’s his sister Blaze, who’s a star in London’s world of finance, but thanks to succession rights, is left out in the cold. And looming over the story, there are the shadows of Anastasia, a wildly beautiful but banished close friend of the family, and a ruthless American banker seeking revenge for a long repressed social slight.
The House of Trelawney is available on Amazon.
The Man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes
Barnes has been one of my most highly regarded authors for forty years now, my favorites being Flaubert’s Parrot, The Sense of an Ending, and Arthur & George. This is his latest, and it’s a wonderful pastiche of art history, literary speculation, and an examination of the curious relationship between Britain and France during the late 19th century, on to the early 20th. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s the period now popularly called the Belle Époque in Paris.
Taking as his take off point the man who posed for John Singer Sargent’s "Man in the Red Coat," Dr. Samuel Pozzi, we’re taken on a whirlwind, well-researched, and edifying tour of the era. The cast of characters is non-pareil; there’s Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Guy de Maupassant, Colette, Kipling, Henry James, Marcel Proust, and the two men who travelled with Pozzi to London in the summer of 1985—Prince Edmond de Polignac, and Count Robert de Montisquiou-Fezensac.
Throughout this historical journey, we’re constantly reminded how this era of unbridled creativity, crazy egos, and strong notions of class and status could very well be a mirror of what we live through today.
While this isn’t a novel in the sense of how we expect Barnes to regularly produce; it is a direct relative of Flaubert’s Parrot, with Barnes tackling history, and gifting us with something much more.
The Man in the Red Coat is available on Amazon.