Why I can’t write a Book Review for “Belgravia” by Julian Fellowes.
Summary: “It is the evening of 15 June 1815, and the Duchess of Richmond has thrown a magnificent ball in Brussels for the Duke of Wellington. The guests include James and Anne Trenchard, who have made their money in trade, along with their beautiful daughter Sophia. It is a night to remember, but one that is cut tragically short by news of Napoleon’s advance. When the Trenchards move into the fashionable new area of Belgravia some twenty-five years later, they are surrounded by some of Society’s most influential families. But something happened that night a the ball, so long ago, that threatens their new status. Because behind Belgravia’s magnificent doors is a world of secrets, gossip and intrigue.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Fiction; Settings: Historical, Great Britain – London; Other Categories: Novel, Romance, Family Saga, Social Commentary.
First of all, I will preface this article with the fact that I was a huge fan of Downton Abbey. I just loved the setting, the acting, the various interesting story lines, and how there was such great interplay between the various family members and all of the staff, as well as some of the tenants. Sure, it was a soap opera, I’ll be the first one to shamelessly admit that. There was also romance and intrigue and sudden changes of fate that disrupted normal life, but that was what made it so much fun. Obviously, knowing that Fellowes created this lovely TV series was the reason why we bought this book. Just his name on the cover made it look like it would be a slam dunk success.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Mind you, my husband read this before I did, and he enjoyed it a great deal. But my husband was never a very critical reader, although there were a few books I loved that he didn’t care for quite as much. To be fair, he did have a point about this novel – it really was very nicely written. Of the amount I read, I found that the characters were well developed, the descriptions were vividly drawn, and the plot was plausible, intelligent, and with some interesting twists.
So, you ask, why was this a DNF book for me? Well, to be perfectly honest, despite all these good qualities, I found myself struggling with this book from quite early on in my read. To begin with, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. That was until I realized that, frankly, I didn’t really care about any of these characters. I actually kept on reading this even after I had that epiphany; I wanted to know if I’d find more sympathy for these people. Sadly, that didn’t come, and I stopped reading about half way through once I had solved the mystery of what was troubling me.
You see, this is almost completely an “upstairs” story. By that I mean that all of the major characters are from the upper classes of English society. There’s nothing innately wrong with that, but knowing that the 19th Century had such class disparity made me feel that the problems of the privileged felt so inconsequential compared to those who worked “downstairs” for those people. Yes, there are a couple of characters who actually had to work for a living, including one character who is important to the story, but he’s practically the only one. Furthermore, most of the lower-class people in this story aren’t portrayed in a very nice light – their either stupid, or they’re greedy and/or mean spirited, or both. Frankly, I found that an insult to my intelligence.
You see, the whole charm of Downton Abbey and stories of that ilk is the way that we see the strengths and weaknesses of both the upstairs and the downstairs characters. Sadly, this book felt very one dimensional in that the various classes were drawn with more black and white stereotypes than the full rainbow of human qualities. That is why I had to DNF this novel, and why I can’t give it more than two stars. (Despite this, I did watch the TV series made from this novel, and it wasn’t nearly as flat as the book – probably due to the wonderful comedic actress Tamsin Grieg in the main role, who brought more humor to the screen than Fellowes was able to bring to the page.)
If I haven’t convinced you not to read this novel, this book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository UK or US (both with free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK or US, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you.