This month, the wonderful Alan Bennett has chosen Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love. He has this to say about it:
The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford was the first novel I ever read for pleasure. I had read novels before but only because they were set books at school, so I’d ‘done’ Vanity Fair for school certificate (and stalled halfway through Pickwick Papers) but I had never read a novel of my own free will and purely for the fun of it until I came across The Pursuit of Love in 1955 when I was an undergraduate.
It’s a semi-autobiographical account of the childhood and youth of Nancy Mitford, the eldest of the famous Mitford sisters about whom much has been written since—too much maybe, so that they can seem pretty tiresome. But like all the best novels it’s another world—and one so far from my own upbringing in Leeds that I marvel its seeming silliness should have appealed to me so readily. And not merely to me.
My father was a butcher and not much given to reading but hard put for something to do he found The Pursuit of Love on my shelf and took to it as readily as I had—and particularly to Uncle Matt.
In a short story I wrote a few years ago I imagined the Queen coming across The Pursuit of Love in a travelling library outside Buckingham Palace to find herself as instantly captivated as I had been—reading it and laughing out loud as I had heard my father do.
I envy someone reading it for the first time.
Alan Bennett’s diary for 2014 will, as usual, appear in the next issue of the London Review of Books.