Highland Fling – Nancy Mitford (1931) 199 pages
Highland Fling was Nancy Mitford’s first novel and while not as sparkling as her later works there’s still much to enjoy here. It’s familiar Mitford territory: insane upper classes, Bright Young Things, serious issues treated lightly, light issues treated seriously, and it all works out in the end.
Walter is married to Sally and is entirely useless with money, powering through both their allowances so that he has to ponder “why shouldn’t I do some work? If you come to think of it, lots of people do. I might bring out a book of poems in handwriting with corrections.”
Thankfully for the reading public, they are asked instead to look after Sally’s relative’s enormous country pile in Scotland. They take their friend Albert, who has no idea what to do with himself after Eton and Oxford until “It had come to him during the night that he wished to be a great abstract painter”; and Jane, who “had taste without much intellect, her brain was like a mirror, reflecting the thoughts and ideas of her more intelligent friends and the books she read.”
Keeping company with these Bright Young Things are all the ancient types who descend on Dulloch Castle every year for the shooting season.
“Lord Prague, it may be noted, was to all intents and purposes dead, except on shooting days when he would come to life in the most astonishing manner”
There’s also the massively racist General Murgatroyd who is violent to his dog and didn’t get the come-uppance I’d hoped for (his racism is never condoned, although some portraits of Scottish locals leave a lot to be desired), Lady Prague who is astonishingly rude to all, and Lady Brenda who has the appearance of “an overbred horse”, not helped by her habit of blowing smoke through her nostrils.
What follows is this unlikely crowd getting on each other’s nerves, lying about a missing picnic, getting pregnant, getting engaged…
Thankfully the blood sports are not described in great detail, it’s more about the ridiculous antics of people on the shoot. I do wish someone had rescued Murgatroyd’s poor dog though.
Obviously you need a high tolerance for silly toffs to read Mitford. I enjoy her writing and I did think this was fun, but as I said at the start, not quite as incisive or as funny as she would later achieve.
“Nobody dies in childbirth now, my dear. It’s considered quite vieux jeu.”
To end, something that was absolutely nothing to do with the plot, but did make me smile. For those of us irritated by schoolkids playing music out loud on their mobile phones on public transport, Albert has this experience on the train:
“They then began to play vulgar jazz tunes on a portable gramophone, a noise which Albert found more supportable than their chatter.”
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose 😀