What a lovely, fitting cover for this novel about the British fair and noble and the social climbers, who threaten their closed shop. Julian Fellowes, an actor, writer, and film director, and as such a social climber himself, describes the tricks of the aristocratic trade in loving and only mildly ironic detail, so that the hoi polloi can catch more than just a glimpse of the world of true, laid back glamour and social power compared to the tinsel world of show business and the totally bleak of normal mortals like you and me.
Fellowes narrates most of his story in first person as an actor-writer-friend of the aristocratic clan of the Broughton-Uckfields, whose heir, the Earl, falls in love with Edith Lavery of middle-class descent. She very cunningly makes him marry her, so that she can make the dream of her life come true. But she soon finds out, that her husband Charles is rather a bore, more interested in hunting and farming than in the glittering life she had expected to share.
When the narrator and a team of actors film nearby, Edith falls in love with Simon, the best-looking man ever. Although he is married with two kids, she leaves her husband and moves to London with her lover.
After almost a year of living in sexually fulfilling sin Edith realizes, what a terrible mistake it all has been. She is shunned by her former noble friends, apart from the ever-understanding narrator, Simon is only just successful as an actor and his charm has lost its glitter for her.
When she finds herself pregnant (not very convincing in the 21.century) she desperately tries to contact Charles, but her cunning mother-in-law, the real heroine of the story, pulls all the strings to prevent a reunion, although poor Charles is wretched and still in love with his Edith. But the inevitable happy ending is near!
Fellowes lets the reader take the part of the voyeur, looking through the keyhole, not a very comfortable position. And he changes perspective, so apart from his first-person-experience he also tells part of the action as omniscient narrator, which is a rather clumsy way to get things going.
So if you are really interested in the fine print of English class structure, I would rather recommend Kate Fox “Watching the English”. And it is infinitely more amusing.