An American family discovers there’s no cure for Anglophilia like living in London.
This slight comic memoir oversells its premise, as the 1960s England recounted by Academy Chicago president and editorial director Miller (Uncollecting Cheever: The Family of John Cheever vs. Academy Chicago Publishers, 1998, etc.) is far from swinging. The story is set in 1965, but Beatlemania and Carnaby Street are at the periphery; at the forefront is a drab, provincial, day-to-day London that seems permanently stuck in the past. When her husband, Jordan, moved her and their three children to London—in hopes of salvaging what was left of the British branch of his business—Miller, with a freshly minted degree in English literature, looked forward to soaking up centuries of literary culture. Instead, life in this new old world became a series of daily torments. The landlady of their rented town house left the place in poor repair; sheets and cookware were missing, and bathroom leaks and clogs became all too apparent. The city rubbed the family the wrong way; service personnel arrived at the worst time or not at all, store and restaurant staffers were indifferent to customers, and minor requests transformed into major ordeals. The locals were boors who fetishize the queen and lecture Americans on their shortcomings. “We’re five hundred years ahead of you, you see,” explains one new acquaintance. “We’ve had more time to become civilized.” The book is at its funniest when Miller lets comic events speak for themselves, but the wit is often forced. The author’s memories aren’t so much interesting in themselves as they are buoyed by her pseudo-drollery. “[T]he English, they’ll do you every time,” says the family’s Irish cleaning lady, which is funnier the first time she says it than the tenth.
A book of modest charms just short enough not to outstay its welcome.