Thrumpton Hall by Miranda Seymour was one of those books that took me forever to finish. I'm not even sure why. Henri suggested that it was because it is the quintessential British book. Nothing happens for something like 300 pages. But that really isn't the reason.
This is a very odd and oddly affecting book. I found it beautifully written and deeply unsettling. I am always attracted and repulsed by stories of great obsession. From Romeo and Juliet to George Seymour and Thrumpton Hall, the power of obsession is both fascinating and repulsive.
This is the story of a house, a fading way of life and an entire family. The story is always dominated by George Seymour. He is a priggish snob and a self aggrandizing jerk. A study in eccentricity and total self obsession. He wants to be an aristocrat but the closest he can get is to being a bastard descendant of Charles II. He wants a title but wasn't born to it and didn't have enough money to buy one. In the beginning I tried to be be at least marginally non-judgmental. By the end, I just flat out hated him.
The story is saved by Miranda Seymour's writing skill. She does not spare her father or herself. And the story is infinitely humanized by the interwoven narrative of her Mother and her mother's memories.
Miranda Seymour is a fine writer and I am a fan which is why I picked up the book in the first place. I find it fascinating that today she is living at Thrumpton Hall. She rents it out for weddings, movie shoots and even as a vacation spot just to keep it. In many ways she is as tied to the house as he. In Thrumpton Hall she has proven that not only is she a fine writer but that (as her Mother points out) she is much like her father.
The official stuff:
Dear Thrumpton, how I miss you tonight, wrote twenty-one-year-old George Seymour in 1944. But the object of his affection was not a young woman but a house—ownership of which was then a distant dream. But he did eventually acquire Thrumpton, a beautiful country house in Nottinghamshire, and it was in this idyllic home that Miranda Seymour was raised.
Her upbringing was far from idyllic, however, as life revolved around her father's capriciousness. The house took priority and everything else was secondary, even his wife. Until, that is, the day when George Seymour, already in his golden years, took to wearing black leather and riding powerful motorbikes around the countryside in the company of a young male friend. Had he taken leave of his senses? Or had he finally found them? And how did this sea change affect his wife and daughter?
Both biography and family memoir, this sometimes hilarious, sometimes heart-wrenching story—told in a voice as unforgettable as it is moving—is a riveting and ultimately shocking portrait of desire and the devastating consequences of misplaced love.