A witty, entertaining and ever-so-British report from the upper-class war.
Miles Straker, “a grasper of hands, a hugger of both men and women,” is the lord of a mews house in Mayfair (headquarters of his wildly profitable PR firm), a stucco townhouse on Holland Park (his weekday home) and a stately retreat in Hampshire: Chawbury Manor, an estate on which, writes Coleridge (A Much Married Man, 2007, etc.), “Miles liked to imply that his own family had been settled…for rather longer than they had.” Miles fancies himself an old-money, baronial sort and disdains newcomers with lots more cash and connections. Among them is supermarket magnate Ross Clegg, who has bought the cottage across the way from Chawbury Manor and plans to replace it with what Miles describes as “an overgrown council house plonked on the horizon.” Certain that this will ruin his property’s value, Miles goes to work telephoning, lobbying, cajoling and threatening, only to find that Ross has beaten him to the punch. Thus begins a war that spills across generations and continents, absorbing the best energies of dozens and filling the datebook of one very busy, very overworked mistress. Coleridge takes his players to fine hotels and posh office towers, serving up the details of a first-class lifestyle in a manner that would do Tom Wolfe proud. The echoes of Austen in the title are a nice touch, though there’s no one here quite as innocent as one might find in dear Jane’s pages. Then again, even the rotters have their good points, particularly as things come increasingly unraveled and “hot rage and humiliation” become the custom of the country.
Which pile of money and bricks will win? Readers who settle into Coleridge’s elaborately enfolded tale will surely want to stick it out to the end to learn the answer—and the payoff is delicious.