It's a hoot. "Snobs" is a frothy, funny, in the cross-hairs look at life among the distant, devious, and sometimes demented British upper classes. Dare you to read a page or two and put it down. Impossible!
However, this rib-tickling romp is what we've come to expect from the Academy Award-winning author of Gosford Park. What else from the man whose son is named Peregrine and his dachshund Fudge? Fellowes well knows the pretentiousness of the privileged but describes it with such warmth and wit that readers, rather than feeling antipathy toward the titled, simply come to look upon these folks as a tad daft and highly amusing. There doesn't seem to be a malicious word in this author's vocabulary - only merriment.
A jovial, easy-going sort, the narrator is an actor who knows the right people, although he was not born to be one of them. He's about 30 years of ago with a bright outlook on life and a good friend, the young, beautiful, clear complexioned Edith Lavery. "She was a type, albeit a superior example of it: the English blonde with large eyes and nice manners."
As the story opens Edith is employed, rather unhappily so. Her future, she believes, rests in finding a wealthy husband. She's learned her lesson well from her mother, Stella, who was once a debutante but did not marry well. Stella yearns, longs, and dreams of the day when somehow she will gain entry into the upper echelons of London society. What will open these gilded doors for her? Daughter Edith.
As luck or fate would have it, Edith does find a wealthy husband. He's not only rich but he's Lord Charles Broughton. His ancestral home is Broughton Hall, a portion of which is now open to paying guests. Much to the distress of his overbearing mama Charles proposes to Edith, they marry, and he brings her to live in the hallowed Hall. Barely eight months into their marriage Edith sees Charles as perhaps more frog than Prince Charming. She finds his friends supercilious and small-minded, his mother a harridan, and her duties as the wife of a future Earl endlessly boring. He is rather dull, plodding, and lacking in imagination. But, he adores her and she now has every luxury of which she dreamed.
We read, "She was...sufficiently honourable about the Faustian pact she had made to wish to keep it." That was before she met Simon Russell, an ego driven actor who was"astonishingly good-looking, but in truth the trailer was better than the feature."
Simon believes a liaison with Edith will better his career considering all the publicity such an affair would engender, so he sets about winning her. She's hardly a challenge. Before long the two run off together, breaking Charles's heart and setting forked tongues wagging.
What Simon did not realize was that Edith's currency would be worthless once she left Charles, and what Edith did not realize was that Simon's theatre friends would be quite as stand-offish and exclusive as the upper class had been. The already married Simon who believes that "moral laws are designed for for lesser mortals" is blessed with almost total self-absorption, and goes his merry way. On the other hand, Edith, sharing a small flat with Simon, finds that Broughton Hall did have great advantages, after all. She is miserable once again.
What is she to do and how can she go about doing it?
"Snobs" is a smile provoking, stylish story - don't miss it.
- Gail Cooke