HABITS OF THE HOUSE
Readers will easily compare Weldon’s novel set in the last three months of the 19th century to Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey, but the riotous story of the aristocratic household is a portrait of the era as well — a turbulent time when the Boer War rages, money is tight and social change is creeping into the house on Belgrave Square. Weldon deftly draws readers into the characters’ world and, even if the plot appears formulaic, the reader will delight in the family and servants’ colliding lives.
The Earl and Countess of Dilberne’s solicitor arrives with devastating news — the South African gold mine in which they invested is caught in the middle of the Boer war. Already heavily in debt, the family now faces bankruptcy. However, they must keep up appearances to the outside world. They need to find a way to get money quick before the truth is known and a scandal ensues. They decide an American heiress for their son or a wealthy husband for their daughter could save the day. However, Arthur’s only interest is in motorcars, and Rosina scares away most would-be suitors with her strong feminist attitude. But the arrival of the Chicago O’Briens changes everything. (ST. MARTIN’S, Jan., 320 pp., $25.99)