‘The Bookseller’s Secret’: The adventures of Nancy Mitford
San Diego author Michelle Gable bases her new novel on the author’s wartime years
Michelle Gable’s “The Bookseller’s Secret” is her new novel about author Nancy Mitford, whom she greatly admires.
“I’ve been a longtime Nancy Mitford fan but became obsessed with the entire Mitford clan after reading ‘The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family’ by Mary S. Lovell,” said the San Diego-based best-selling writer.
The story follows Mitford’s adventures as a London bookstore manager during World War II — complete with spies, infamous sisters and romance. Interwoven within is a modern-day narrative seeking Mitford’s lost wartime manuscript.
“I could yammer for hours about the mind-boggling Mitford girls,” Gable said. “Nancy the novelist was one of six beautiful sisters with very distinct, if not controversial, personas: Pamela the countrywoman, Diana the Fascist (and most hated woman in England), Unity the Hitler confidante, Jessica the Communist and Deborah the Duchess of Devonshire.”
Best-selling books by Gable include “A Paris Apartment,” and “I’ll See You in Paris.” Gable, who lives in Cardiff with her family, will be part of an author panel event sponsored by Adventures by the Book on Friday.
Q: Who was Nancy Mitford, and how is she connected to the Heywood Hill bookshop?
A: Nancy Mitford was a British author who worked at Heywood Hill during the war. At the time, she’d had four books published but was relatively unknown. Her fifth book, “The Pursuit of Love,” came out at the end of the war. It was an enormous hit and made her a household name.
Q: Who is Katie Cabot, and why did you want to write two narratives?
A: Unlike the characters in the historical portions of the novel, Katie is entirely fictional. All my books have dual timelines — I like the challenge! In this case, Katie served a very specific role. While we have vastly different backgrounds, Katie shares much of my writerly angst. She helped me work out many frustrations, to the point my agent and editor asked me to please tone it down!
Q: What did you find surprising about Nancy Mitford?
A: The Mitfords offer endless surprises, though most I knew about beforehand. I hadn’t realized “The Pursuit of Love” was Nancy’s first hit, and it felt especially poignant that we’d both been agonizing over what to write for our fifth book. Her decades-long romance with a French politician was also surprising, along with the fact our husbands look exactly alike.
Q: Is this a mystery?
A: I don’t consider it a mystery, but, as with my previous books, there is a mystery element. My characters are always searching for something, literally or metaphorically.
Q: What’s your favorite Nancy Mitford book?
A: “The Pursuit of Love,” hands down. The humor! The heart! I love that it’s based on her own childhood and family. Central to this is the monstrous, wonderful “Uncle Matthew,” modeled after Nancy’s father.
Q: What character or real-life person did you have the most fun writing?
A: This is by far the hardest question! Nancy had a rich cast of characters in her life, from family members to fellow writers and friends. The hypochondriac Edwin “Hellbags” Sackville-West was great fun. This was a man who viewed his body as a swarming hive of malevolent bees. “Hellbags” was a real person, but there’s not much written about him, so I enjoyed filling in the sketch of what is known.
If I had to pick one person, it’d be the insufferable, hilarious Evelyn Waugh. He was such an ass, and it was a blast making up snide remarks, or sharing horrible comments he really did say. He could be downright cruel to Nancy, such as saying she wrote half of a good book, yet there was a deep and profound bond between them. Evelyn’s voice was so clear to me; I could practically hear him sneering at me from the other side of the room.
Q: What are two books on your summer “to be read” list?
A: “The Guncle” by Steven Rowley will be my next read. I’m a huge fan of the author, and I love the concept — a gay uncle becomes guardian of his niece and nephew — as well as the Palm Springs setting. In real life and on the page, Rowley has a sharp, Nancy Mitford-esque wit. For historical fiction, I’m excited to read Kristin Harmel’s “The Forest of Vanishing Stars.” I love all of Kristin’s books and am always interested in the less-explored stories of World War II.
“The Bookseller’s Secret” by Michelle Gable (Graydon House, 2021; 400 pages)
Adventures by the Book presents Michelle Gable
When: 11:30 a.m. Friday, Aug. 27
Where: Hosted by Adventures by the Book: Summer Picnic Adventure with multiple authors. Encinitas park will be disclosed on purchase of ticket.
Tickets: Cost varies
Phone: (619) 300-2532
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