AJH diligently fails to get to grips with yet more social media.
I want to reach out to touch that hair. Slide my fingers through it. It's unkempt, but looks so soft. I want to curl up against him, around him, and tell him I understand. I don't have a family, and he's invisible to his. I want to tell him that I notice him, even if no one else does. His shoulders hunch up, fingers lacing behind his neck. I know what he would say to that. I'm not worth noticing. And I'm not sure I can stomach him taking something so heartfelt and sincere and tossing it aside, so I say nothing. We sit on the balcony, hip to hip, being sad together.
A Silver’s heart drifts through its body, bumping softly against walls and other organs. Sometimes it’s illuminated, and you can see it beneath the bruised skin, floating along like a lantern underwater.
I feel like I should have liked this more than I did… I mean, I did enjoy it, I romped through it on a bus journey to London, but it hasn’t particularly stayed with me.
Also apparently we’re not meant to give spoilers, so I won’t – except it’s kind of blatantly obvious what’s going on, because it’s the only possible thing that could be going on. And while I wasn’t disappointed to learn that the only thing that could be going on was, in fact, going on – I think expecting the reader to have their tiny mind blown is pushing it.
And, apologies, if that sounds uncharitable but while the book pacey, intriguing and tightly plotted, I tend to find plot twists a bit less impactful when you get the sense that somebody is standing behind you going “omg, did you see mah plot twist.”
Anyway: the book kicks off in 1967 with a young reporter, Juliette Blanc, investigating the rediscovery of a silent movie from 1913 which was assumed lost in a studio fire. Enter Adele Roux, the lead actress of the piece, who slowly reveals to Juliette the history (and the shocking truth!) of the film, and the events that took place in 1913. Sex! Scandal! Cinema! Lesbianism! Betrayal! Yay!
It’s a very cinematic book, and employs a lot of narrative tricks, to deceive and dazzle the reader, splicing together timelines and viewpoints, and occasionally doubling back on itself to reveal, and conceal, different perspectives and pieces of information. It’s clever stuff, although it’s more intellectually than emotionally engaging. Adele’s journey from self-serving ambition to all-consuming love, particularly, I initially found a bit unconvincing, but then she is seventeen at the time so that probably goes some way to explain the slightly unfinished edge to her character. Well, that and The Thing. But, then, Andre’s journey from powerless to power to convenient balls-to-the-wall villainy was equally ragged. However, the fact that I didn’t feel particularly sympathetic to anyone wasn’t necessarily a problem, as I was sufficiently drawn in to keep reading regardless.
In short, I think I admired the style of this, more than the substance, but I did admire the hell out of the style. Also I deeply loved the portrayal of pre-WWI Paris in all its cruelty and decadence.
So this is … um, scholarly, which is not remotely a complaint but I might have been slightly dazzled by the waistcoat on the front. I think I'm used to slightly more personalised accounts of history, but Greig (for perfectly sensible reasons) has chosen to eschew this in favour of something closer to ethnography. Essentially, this an exploration of the quite self-conscious creation, and maintenance, of a privileged elite, and its intersections with fashion, politics and economics.
While Greig judiciously avoids relevancy-hunting, and views with suspicion easy correspondences between Georgian high society and modern day celebrity culture, she nevertheless paints a picture of what is essentially a quite deliberate re-branding exercise on the part of the aristocracy.
It's, honestly, pretty fascinating stuff, and Grieg writes engagingly, drawing from an interesting selection of letters, diaries, memorandum books and accounting records. The chapters I found most interesting where the ones that focused on politics, the role of women, and social exiles (which includes some pretty exciting tales of Georgian conmen).
What The Beau Monde it isn't, however, is sex, and scandal, and Georgians behaving badly. Which tends to be what I'm looking for in a history book.
Also Grieg's relationship with the term 'beau monde' seems peculiarly troubled - there's a little essay on the origin and development of term at the back of the book, which struck me a slightly artificial and unhelpful attempt to isolate language from culture. Particularly strange in a book that is all about the development, and the power, of culture.