Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Book Review Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey

I love Downton Abbey and I love the books Catherine Bailey writes about that timeframe.  Bailey's books mix in history with personal history creating well crafted stories which grab my attention.  Black Diamond is no exception and I really loved this book.  I even had a hard time putting it down, but it wasn't always easy reading.

Unlike Downton Abbey which glamorizes the England of the British aristocracy heading into the 20th century Bailey is willing to touch on the harsher realities of the inequity and, frankly, selfishness, of the rich which led to them losing their place (in the world).  And the lesson is a powerful one in today's world, in which the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow.

Black Diamonds tells the story of the downfall of a great family, the Earl Fitzwilliams, mixed in with the crushing brutality of the British coal industry.  Bailey is hindered by the family's destruction of a great stretch of documentation by them and about them which covers the period she describes.  But her sympathies clearly rarely lie with any family member as the whole lot seem selfish, self preoccupied and quite entitled.  Instead she creates a nuanced narrative of their world around them, which they touched but also largely ignored.

And this book is so good, not to taste the glamour of the period but rather the exploitation and privilege  which characterized too many like families.  This one even has a Kennedy twist along with epilepsy, addiction, insanity, abuse and self destructiveness.  It's a great story, though more about the time period than the family.

Highly recommended.

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