Marie Benedict has another historical fiction novel for us, this time focusing on three sisters, Nancy, Diana and Unity Mitford.
For those not familiar with the Mitfords, they were a family of six daugters (and a son, Tom), cousins of Winston Churchill by marriage, who made a splash in their day. Youngest sister Deborah (Debo) became the Duchess of Devonshire!
But this novel focuses on the years leading up to WWII as Diana and Unity claim more than a passing affinity for fascism; Diana via her relationship with the English fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley and Unity via hers with Adolf Hitler. Nancy tries to figure out how seriously she should take their attraction to fascism as Great Britain faces war with Germany.
Like her previous novels, The Mitford Affair is written in short chapters on certain dates, making it easy to read in short sittings although I would have preferred to read it in longer chunks of time. I felt like I was losing the emotional threads Benedict was weaving because it was easy to jump in and out of the book at natural pauses. When I had time to read it in a more significant stretch of time, I was struck by the emotional nuance of Nancy’s relationship to their mother in particular, as well as the complicated dynamics within all sister relationships, even ones not muddied by differing ideologies.
So the really uncomfortable part of this novel for me (and for the author as well as she makes clear in her Author’s Note) was being so up close and personal with Hitler as he’s playing the part of gentleman for Unity and the beautiful, poised Diana. Unity in particular is obsessed with him in a romantic sense and it was just ick to read that even though I know that that’s what the real Unity likely thought.
Still, when I gave myself the time with this one, I really enjoyed it. Marie Benedict proves once again that she is adept at giving voice to women in history, even less than savoury ones in this case.
Like all good historical ficton novels, this one will without a doubt send you down a Google rabbit hole as you’ll want to know what happened to the sisters after the book ends in the early days of the war. If you’re looking for a nonfiction companion book to read with this one, I can recommend Sisters: The Saga of the Mitfords by Mary S. Lovell.
Thanks to SourceBooks via NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.