Downton Abbey–related Reviews | October 15, 2012

Weldon, Fay. Habits of the House. St. Martin’s. Jan. 2013. c.320p. ISBN 9781250026620. $25.99. F

Conflict between the Boers and the British in South Africa could spell financial ruin for the Earl of Dilberne. The goldmine in which he has invested most of his assets, including his wife’s inheritance and children’s trust funds, has been destroyed by the fighting. Despite dire warnings from the solicitor who manages his business affairs, the Earl and his wife, Isobel, must maintain appearances. How to cover tailoring bills and gambling debts while maintaining Dilberne Court in Hampshire plus a London household? Arthur, the son and heir, must marry for money. He agrees as long as he can continue experimenting with steam cars and supporting his mistress. Enter Minnie O’Brien, daughter of a wealthy meat packer, who needs a titled husband to erase Chicago gossip about her affair with a married man. Arthur’s sister, Rosina, professes support for numerous social causes from international peace to feminism but shows little concern for the Dilberne servants. They, of course, know everything that happens in the household and spend much time exchanging gossip. As 1899 ends, a stroke of luck averts financial ruin temporarily—or at least long enough to continue the Dilberne story in two more volumes slated for 2013. VERDICT Weldon, who wrote the pilot for Upstairs, Downstairs, travels well-worn territory here, but she does so effortlessly and adroitly. Fans of Downton Abbey and similar sagas will enjoy exploring the twists and turns of life in the extended Dilberne household. [75,000-copy first printing; see Prepub Alert, 7/6/12.]—Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ. Lib., Mankato

starred review star Wilhide, Elizabeth. Ashenden. S. & S. Jan. 2013. c.352p. ISBN 9781451684865. $24.99. F

This beautifully written debut novel takes us on a moving pilgrimage through the ups and downs of human nature, all within the walls of a historic English mansion. Wilhide, author of more than 20 books on interior design, decoration, and architecture, does a terrific job of introducing the reader to the history of Ashenden, starting with a tragedy in 1775 and continuing with the house’s construction through the two world wars and into the present day. The story jumps through the years—sometimes skipping a decade, sometimes a century—but each vignette is connected through the house and its residents, servants, neighbors, and visitors. Within these stories, we meet the original architect who puts his heart into this house’s design, servants in desperation, happy families, and miserable couples, all against a historical background. VERDICT With its top-notch writing, strong character development, and excellent plot, this will be on the reserve list of Downton Abbey fans, historical fiction readers, and family saga buffs.—Marianne Fitzgerald, Annapolis, MD