Sybille Bedford’s novel is another enjoyable example of her luxurious prose, droll wit, perfectly timed dialogue (see also her travel book to Mexico), always a treat to sink into after a few hours of battling with the gloom of the real world. It’s couched as fiction, but the bones of the story seem to closely follow her own life, born to an elderly German baron who lived in France and Spain and a distracted, rich, beautiful English woman (possibly not even the baron’s, having an affair with someone else at the time). It’s rich with descriptions of growing up in the polished wood mansion of her grandparents’ Berlin home, only they weren’t her grandparents—it’s complicated. Her father’s first marriage was to a wealthy young Berliner, Melanie, who died a year after giving birth to the narrator’s half-sister, Henrietta. The in-laws, the Mertz, insisted on his living with them and raising Henrietta, and soon he got a large allowance and was kept on in style. When he married a second time, he has the audacity to ask for a larger allowance from his previous in-laws! The first section is an exploration of her father’s childhood, carefree for the most part, until rumblings in the German state caused chaos and sent his younger brother Jean to military school where he went insane. They lived in the country, ate well, no money problems but no real money either. The grandfather insisted that they dine an hour after sunset, as was the custom of the Romans.
Beautiful and well worth your time to take a trip back to pre-war Europe if you can stand the mutterings and peccadilloes of the upper class.