Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford

Pigeon Pie

Sophia is wealthy, idle and bored. When war is declared she hopes that it will bring some excitement into her life.

“Sophia Garfield had a clear mental picture of what the outbreak of war would be like. There would be a loud bang, succeeded by inky darkness and a cold wind. Stumbling over heaps of rubble and dead bodies, Sophia would search with industry, but without hope, for her husband, her lover and her dog. It was in her mind like the End of the World, or the Last Days of Pompeii, and for more than two years now she had been steeling herself to bear with fortitude the hardships, both mental and physical, that must accompany this cataclysm.”

But the reality of 1939 and the “phony war” doesn’t quite live up to Sophia’s expectations. Life changes little. She finds herself employed at a first aid post with little to actually do.

It is particularly galling that most of her friends seemed to be occupied with secret missions of huge importance. Wouldn’t Sophia have made a wonderful, glamorous spy?!

And eventually she gets her chance. Sophia finds spies in her own home and, when nobody takes her seriously, she sets out to find proof. Along the way she will encounter threats, betrayal, kidnapping and much more.

Pigeon Pie is badly dated – a book about the war written in 1939 and published in 1940 is bound to be – but there is much to enjoy.

The story has a lovely blend of entertainment and satire. Nancy Mitford pokes fun at her characters, but it is clear that, underneath at all, she does love them.

Sophia is quite charming and her supporting cast is wonderful – her social rival Olga Gogothsky (nee Baby Bagg), and her godfather Ivor King (The King of Song), are particularly enjoyable.

The tone is maybe a little uneven, but when the wit works it really does sparkle.

“Rather soon after the war had been declared it became obvious that nobody intended it to begin. The belligerent countries were behaving like children in a round game, picking up sides, and until all of the sides had been picked the game could not start.

England picked up France, Germany picked up Italy, England beckoned to Poland, Germany answered with Russia. Then Italy’s Nanny said that she had fallen down, running, and mustn’t play. England picked up Turkey, Germany picked up Spain, but Spain’s Nanny said she had internal troubles and must sit this one out. England looked towards the Oslo group, but they had never played before, except little Belgium, who had hated it, and the others felt shy. America, of course, was too much of a baby for such a grown-up game, but she was just longing to see it played. And still it would not begin.”

It is understandable that Pigeon Pie is not as well known as much of Nancy Mitford’s other works, but it is still a charming curio of its period.

7 responses

  1. Nancy Mitford is wonderful! Her most successful books were The Pursuit of Love and Love In a Cold Climate, and they are still in print. Her and her sisters lives were fascinating – there are a nummer of books by and about them and I would recommend Mary S Lovell’s group biography The Mitford Girls to anyone interested to find out more

  2. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: May 9, 2009 at Semicolon

  3. Pingback: Themed Reading Challenge: Links for April/May – caribousmom

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