I hate quitting on books. Hate. It. Because I’m a fast reader, I can usually convince myself to stick with my read. But I white-knuckled my way through about 100 pages of “The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters” before I finally tossed it and moved on. Life’s too short.
I’d never heard of the Mitford Sisters before but I guess they’re pretty famous. They were socialites who managed to deliver more drama than the Kardashians. Beautiful, witty, articulate and unpredictable, they were at the forefront of a changing Europe. There was Nancy (the writer), Pamela (the boring one), Diana (the fascist), Unity (the Nazi), Jessica (the runaway Communist), and Deborah (the duchess).
The sisters (along with their brother Tom) enjoyed a aristocratic but eccentric upbringing. Although the Mitford family came from money, their father had bad luck/terrible business sense and as a result the girls lacked a formal upbringing. Left mostly to their own devices, they created their own private world, complete with their own invented language and affectionate nicknames.
But the ideological warfare sweeping through 20th century Europe created equally irreparable damage within the Mitford family. The parents split up (“Farv” was conservative, but “Muv” was supportive of her fascist daughters). Jessica moved to the U.S. Diana married the leader of the British Union of Fascists and went to jail for three years. Unity, despondent when her beloved England and beloved Germany declared war upon each other, shot herself in the head. She somehow messed that up and it took her eight years to die from complications. The political rifts between some of the sisters left them estranged until their deaths.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get any of this information from the book. Instead, I had to rely on Wikipedia. Laura Thompson appears to have written the book with the understanding that anyone who read it already knew everything about these sisters. The timeline was nonexistent, as she jumped wildly from subject to subject in any given paragraph (in a few short sentences, we could go from their grandfather’s history, to Unity’s death, to this neighbor near them that had a horse once). She talked about the sisters and their friends interchangeably, something that was (a) confusing; and (b) impossible to care about. She quoted from Nancy Mitford’s writing as if I already knew it; no, author! I expected you to introduce her to me. How silly of me.
If you’re a fan of the Mitford sisters, I think you’d maybe like this book. And if you’re intrigued about these women, I’m sure there are many other books that do them justice. I should have known from the plodding, meandering, and confusing introduction that this book wouldn’t be for me. Unfortunately my innate Irish stubbornness won out and now there’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back.
Verdict: RUN AWAY