Monday, March 5, 2012

A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper

A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper intrigued me when I first heard about it a few years ago, but I have only just gotten around to reading it.

Sophie FitzOsborne is a princess of a small, impoverished, tumbledown kingdom -- Montmaray, a tiny island in the Bay of Biscay. Hundreds of years ago, her ancestors were cast adrift in a shipwreck and landed on the island, claiming it as their kingdom. The population grew, then dwindled -- by 1936, the island is inhabited by Sophie, her mad uncle the king, her cousin Veronica, her tomboyish sister Henry, their obsessive housekeeper Rebecca, and a handful of villagers. Toby, the crown prince, is in England at school, along with Simon, Rebecca's son. The FitzOsbornes who remain on the island live in somewhat primitive conditions, but Veronica and Henry are perfectly happy pursuing their own interests. Sophie dreams of a proper "coming out" in London, but she feels she can't leave the rest of her family on the island. Then, one day, the Germans arrive on Montmaray . . .

This is an interesting book -- a little difficult to classify. It's historical fiction, but Montmaray is entirely invented. Of course, if the FitzOsbornes had been living in England, whatever estate they lived on would likewise have been invented, so in that respect it's not all that much different from other works of historical fiction. The writing style, diary format, and air of impoverished gentility inevitably draw comparisons to Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle. I didn't like A Brief History of Montmaray quite as much as I liked I Capture the Castle, but I do look forward to reading more about the FitzOsbornes in the future.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

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