Fay Weldon completes her trilogy of British upstairs/downstairs society in The New Countess. All the familiar characters are back, but if you’ve forgotten their assorted scandals and peccadilloes, as I had, Weldon fills in the back story. The new countess does not emerge until the last chapter, when an accidental shooting at a hunting party conveniently wraps up the lives and stories of the three-book saga.
Maybe my expectations were too high but this final book was not as gripping or as fun as the first two. Although I enjoyed the machinations of the various lords and ladies and the downstairs staff interventions and gossip, the story seemed stale.
In a recent interview with Carole Burns, Weldon proclaims the novel as dead:
“…the novel has become just entertainment. Fifty or 60 years ago, the novel was the only way you had of finding out what was in other people’s heads. You didn’t know anything other than what you read in fiction about how lives were for other people. But now we have film and television, and the novel as a source of understanding and information is no longer really necessary.”
Maybe that’s the reason – television – Downton Abbey is being broadcast where I live now, but I read the first two novels in that slough of downtime, awaiting the return of the Dowager Duchess played by Maggie Smith. Maybe watching has become more entertaining.