Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson

Rating: WARTY!

In yet another audiobook experiment, I decided to explore a novel by Ibbotson, whom I've never read before, and doubt I will again after this! It began a little shakily (I skipped the prologue, which isn't always easy to do in an audiobook, so I consider myself quite accomplished on that score!), but the book began growing on me. That lasted to twenty-five percent in, but the next ten percent was so boring and unnecessary, and irrelevant to the theme (assuming the theme is to get the countess below the stairs and the earl above them together), that I DNF'd the whole thing.

At first I thought that the young lord of the manor, Rupert, would immediately fall for the Russian countess, who is forced into work as a maid, but he's actually fallen for the nurse, Muriel, who took care of him when he was wounded during the closing overs of World War One. I was convinced that would change, though. The nurse, I decided, would probably end up being a gold-digger. In the end, I became more interested in her, and began to think that this story would have been a vastly-improved romance had it been about Muriel and Rupert, and Anna the countess left out of it altogether. She was tedious.

Why this countess is a maid rather than say, a governess or a lady's companion, or even keeps her title, is conveniently bypassed by the author, presumably the only reason being that it wouldn't work in getting her and the earl into close proximity. Anna is a young Russian Countess forced to flee Russia after the revolution. Now she's impoverished, and inexplicably forced into menial work to get by. The Earl of Westerholme's household takes her on temporarily, and she works hard, determined to do her best. Rupert was not destined to become the next earl until his older brother was killed in the war whence, in line with the British custom of Primogeniture, everything passed to the oldest remaining male.

But rather than take off when Rupert arrived, this story dissipated into endless rambling asides about an odd assortment of characters and the so-called romance never got started - not in the first third, which was all I could stand to hear. I dislike instadore, but this went in completely the opposite direction, offering no reason at all to imagine that these two would get together! On top of that, the author has the countess (as the maid) behaving so inappropriately that she would have been summarily dismissed without references had this really been England in the inter-war years. The author's approach misfires even more than Rupert's aeroplane engine, and that crashed and burned!