The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters – Laura Thompson


I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for my honest review. This book was previously published as Take Six Girls. The Six will be released on September 6th.

I am loath to post a review when I didn’t finish the book, but I gave this an honest 30% and I just can’t go on. I wish there were SparkNotes for this. In order to fulfill my obligation and assuage my guilt for not finishing, let me tell you why I gave up, or, rather postponed, my reading.

I wanted to read this book because I’ve heard of the Mitford sisters but didn’t know much about them. “Who are they?” a friend asked, having only vaguely heard of the Mitfords. “Kinda like 1930s British Kardashians,” I said. “What are they famous for?” I contemplated and can come up with nothing. “Being Mitfords,” I guessed. But I still wanted to know more about this scandalous group of women.

This book is not for Mitford amateurs.

Unfortunately, to put it simply, this book is just all over the place. It reads like a stack of index cards. It’s a completely discombobulated list of minor factoids and anecdotes. I could never follow where she was going. One reviewer claimed that it’s chronological, but I couldn’t say that’s consistently true. Granted, there is a lot of information when trying to write a biography of SIX related people. Going in as a tabula rasa, like I did, will leave your head spinning. The author assumes you’re intimately familiar with a). All Mitford sisters and associated aunts, uncles, cousins, and various fleeting family friends b). All novels written by Nancy Mitford and lesser-known literary works of the period c). Obsolete modern and/or 1930s British slang and minor pop culture references.

For example, in just the first six pages of Chapter 6 of the e-book, the author covers:

Family friend James Lees-Milne’s obituary for the Mitford mother
Lees-Milne’s feelings for sister Diana and antipathy for Nancy
Other various friends’ and relatives’ feelings about Nancy
Other sisters’ feelings about Lees-Milne’s obituary for their mother
Anecdote about Lees-Milne’s unfavorable experience at a Mitford dinner party
Lees-Milne’s subsequent publication of this anecdote 25 years after the publication of Nancy’s The Pursuit of Love
Backstory of how Lees-Milne met the Mitfords
Lees-Milne’s affair with Tom Mitford at Eton
Discussion of Tom Mitford’s homosexuality

I got to the sixth page of this chapter and couldn’t remember how it began or discern where it was going. Most of my flagged notes included such questions as, “What does this mean?” and “What the hell is she alluding to? Google this.”

The book is heavily researched; I just wish the author had included some semblance of relevance for all the information she included. If you’re very familiar with the Mitford family, and if your own ancestry includes at least eight generations of British gentry, then you should have enough knowledge to understand and appreciate the details included in this book. If, like me, you’re lacking in these areas, be sure to read this near an Internet source to aid your understanding. Laura Thompson is definitely smart and includes references and jokes into these Mitford stories; I am just not knowledgeable enough about this family to get the jokes. Maybe I’ll try a more introductory Mitford book and begin again. I appreciate the opportunity to read this book and will attempt it again in the future after I study up a bit. I’m holding off on a rating until I can fully appreciate this book.

Sorry, toots. I had to make tracks.

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