Saturday, March 07, 2020

21. Hunting the Fairies by Compton Mackenzie

Deciding to take this book home falls under the "it's an old Penguin so it is just too physically beautiful to leave on the shelf, no matter the subject" category.  I quickly scanned the first few lines of the back author blurb and it left me no more the wiser about the subject of this book.  The cover illustration was equally unelucidating, though I know now that it depicts an actual scene in the book and a good one.  It turns out that either it's pure confirmation bias (I chose it, ergo I must like it) or Penguin just generally did a good job with these paperbacks.  Either way, I quite enjoyed this book.

It's a comedy of manners of a sort about a Scottlish Laird, Hugh Cameron of Killwhillie, I guess sometime right after the war.  He is of the old landowning class, though Scottish, not English so a weird subset of British aristocracy that I had never encountered before.  He has an old house on a large piece of land somewhere in Scotland.  All the place names and geography were completely lost on me, but it does sound quite beautiful and rugged.  His dilemma is that an old friend who lives now in the States, having married an American, will not be coming this summer but did take the liberty of asking if Cameron could host an acquaintance of hers, her daughter and her maid.  The woman, Florence Urquhart-Unwin, Yu-Yu to her friends, is the president of the Ossian Society and is coming to Scotland to research and absorb the culture to bring back for the society.  Cameron is quite put out and anxious about this guest, but invites her to come.  Much of the book is then her touring around Scotland, being way more into Scottish stuff than Cameron and many of the Scots.  She also has a rival who comes from the U.S. as well, with her eye on taking away the presidency of the Ossian Society from Yu-Yu.  Much of the humour is them trying to best the other with having more authentic Scottish experiences.

I found it quite funny, even laugh out loud at times.  It is the gentle humour of an older time and an upper class, with lots of dialogue ending in "what?"  The plot thickens as Cameron falls in love with Yu-Yu's 19-year old daughter (he's 50).  It all wraps up nicely and even touchingly, taking on a somewhat more realistic and human tone than the light satire of the middle of the book.  Turns out, Mackenzie has published over 70 books and was very well known on the BBC back in the day.  I would keep an eye out for his other books.  This was fun.


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