Monday 3 December 2007

Hunting Unicorns by Bella Pollen

On my continuing quest to understand the British psyche I was given this book. It was going to give me an insight into the aristocracy

Maggie Monroe is an American journalist for a fictional hard-hitting current affairs show Newsline, not I imagine to be not unlike 60 Minutes. Independent and fearless, the more cutting-edge the story, the happier she is.

She must not be very good at it because for reasons which are never clear she is given an assignment to investigate the decline of England's ruling classes. Not the exactly famine, genocide or war she was hoping for.

Meet the Earl and Countess of Bevan, eccentric, maddening and with family secrets to hide including Daniel, their eldest son and the part time narrator. He is portrayed as funny, attractive and hopelessly alcoholic. And Daniel's responsible brother Rory, to whom the responsibility of the family inheritance has fallen when Daniel dies in a drunken stupor. Rory is angry, self-mocking and strictly teetotal.

Rory becomes Maggie's guide to the landed gentry of the English countryside. They both allow their stereotypical judgements to colour their relationship. Soon, however,Maggie finds herself torn between her journalist habits of making a story be what you want it to be through clever editing and coming to terms with a greater understanding of the tradition, history and responsibility of the former ruling class.

I loved and hated the book. I was relieved to read at the end that the book originally started as a screenplay because it allowed me to forgive the obvious Hollywood scene setting and stage directions. The back and forth of the never ending conclusion was driving me crazy.

But buried beneath this slickness is a touching story which I found witty and hilarious. Pollen does a great job of switching vernacular between the American and English turn of phrase, particularly when Rory is speaking. I had vivid pictures of the characters in my mind and could see this turned into an excellent romantic comedy. I was horrified and somewhat amused to learn that some of the tales are allegedly true stories.

The book isn't going to win any prizes for literature and it won't find a permanent place on my book shelf. But I recommend it for a quick, funny, insightful read.

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