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"The New Countess," by Fay Weldon

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Fay Weldon Photo by ALEX BAKER

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THE NEW COUNTESS

By: Fay Weldon.

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, 327 pages, $25.99.

Review: Weldon features the rituals above stairs and the gossip below in the residence of a Tory aristocrat prominent in the House of Lords in 1905.

REVIEW: 'The New Countess,' by Fay Weldon

  • December 14, 2013 - 2:00 PM

During her youth, Fay Weldon lived below stairs in an aristocratic London mansion as the daughter of the housekeeper, experience that served her well as writer of the first episode of “Upstairs Downstairs.” As well, it equipped her for creating the excellent Earl of Dilberne trilogy, of which “The New Countess” is the final novel. As the book opens, Weldon sets in motion two story lines: the return to London of the wayward Rosina, Lord Dilberne’s daughter, after about three years in Australia, and the forthcoming visit of King Edward VII — with his mistress, Alice Keppel — to the Dilberne’s country estate.

Minnie O’Brien, a rough-edged Chicago heiress, plays a major role in the narrative. She is the wife of Arthur, Lord Dilberne’s son and heir. When Minnie strays from her marriage vows, her behavior threatens the reputation of the Dilberne family.

The novel’s conclusion is surprising. With remarkable skill, Weldon reverses the reader’s expectations in such a way that the astonishment is followed by an immediate recognition of inevitability.

KATHERINE BAILEY

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