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The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me: An Aristocratic Family, a High-Society Scandal and an Extraordinary Legacy (Hardcover)
This beguiling tale of a scandalous ménage à trois among England’s upper classes is a high society love story that combines memoir and biography into a fascinating, heady read in the vein of The Bolter and Portrait of a Marriage.
Among the glittering stars of British society, Sofka Zinovieff’s grandparents lived and loved with abandon. Robert Heber-Percy was a dashing young man who would rather have a drink than open a book, so his involvement with Jennifer Fry, a beautiful socialite famous for her style and charm, was not surprising. But by the time Robert met and married Jennifer, he had already been involved with a man—Gerald, Lord Berners—for more than a decade.
Stout, eccentric, and significantly older, Gerald was a well-known composer, and at home among scholars. He also owned one of Britain’s loveliest stately homes, Faringdon House in Oxfordshire. The two made an unlikely couple, especially because they lived together at Faringdon House when homosexuality was illegal. And then a pregnant Jennifer moved into Faringdon in 1942, creating a formidable ménage à trois.
In this gorgeous, entertaining narrative of bohemian aristocracy illustrated with dozens of photographs, Sofka Zinovieff probes the mysteries of her grandparents and the third man in their marriage. Who was Gerald, and what brought Robert and Jennifer together under his roof? Why did Jennifer marry Robert? Piecing together the complicated reality behind the scandals of revelry and sexuality, she finally allows old ghosts to rest.
About the Author
Sofka Zinovieff is the author of four previous books, including The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me, and has worked as a freelance journalist and reviewer, her work appearing in the Telegraph Magazine, the Times Literary Supplement, the Financial Times, the Spectator, the Independent Magazine, and the London Magazine. After many years in Athens, she now divides her time between Greece and England. She is married with two daughters.
“[A] delightful portrait of one of England’s great eccentrics…. Rich in glamorous scandal….Witty, empathetic, and stylish.”
— Miranda Seymour, New York Times Book Review
“Ms. Zinovieff handles her flamboyant material with considerable tact and finesse…. It makes for ghoulishly irresistible reading.”
— Wall Street Journal
“[A] delicious family history.… Zinovieff works her own kind of magic.”
— Boston Globe
“[A] well-researched, engaging memoir.”
— Washington Post
“Meet the hosts of 1930s England’s most lavish soirees, complete with diamond-clad pets and no shortage of bed-hopping.... Riveting.”
— Town & Country
“Superbly illustrated.... The Mad Boy is an absorbing as well as original book, which replaces the monographic vectors of biography with something more curious and multifarious, nonetheless brought into a haunting and satisfying shape.”
— Alan Hollinghurst, New York Review of Books
“Ms Zinovieff’s narrative tone is cool and clear enough to let its astonishing characters, and her relationship with them, come alive; that makes for a compelling read.”
— The Economist
“The intrigue surrounding these unusual and formidable individuals is an instant hook, which is only enhanced by their personal histories and struggles.… While highlighting eccentricities, glamour, and downright debauchery, Zinovieff is also able to capture the humanity in what is a fascinating and eye-opening ancestral history.”
— Library Journal (starred review)
“A vibrant tapestry…. [An] entertaining story of an unconventional family and their shared trait of flouting convention across generations.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“Zinovieff is an entertaining and amiable companion on this, at times, uncomfortable romp through her family saga.”
— The Times (London)
“A heady account of the scandal-filled lives of a group of 1930s aesthetes.... Sumptuous.”
— Daisy Goodwin, Sunday Times, (London)
“A vivid sketch of …extraordinarily glamorous society…in its heyday.”
— The Guardian (London)
“Written with a poet’s precision.... The delicacy of Zinovieff’s perceptions, the abiding redolence of her descriptions, and the captivating moods of her subjects make...[this] a rare pleasure. It stands at the top of its genre.”
— Richard Davenport-Hines, Times Literary Supplement (London)
“Prepare to be seduced by outlandish delights and strange creatures.”
— Tatler, U.K.
“This absorbing, candid, critical and loving tale of a truly unusual setup looks beyond the clear description of its four title characters....Zinovieff brings the whole stage to life and there isn’t a character…whom one wouldn’t dearly wish to meet.”
— Alexander Waugh, The Literary Review
“Sofka Zinovieff has written the strange, and strangely moving, tale of her family’s unorthodox relationships. By turns comical, tragicomical, and melodramatic....[An] extraordinary family saga.”
— Mirabel Cecil, The Spectator
“Formidably researched and wonderfully enjoyable.”
— The Oldie, U.K.
“[A] fascinating, quirky, and oddly moving must-read hybrid biography-memoir. . .”
“A thorough…look into a long lost world.”
— The Gay & Lesbian Review