I think the trouble was that I had set my expectations too high. There has been so much written about this book, about its biting wit, its fine nuance, its subtle characterizations and its underlying sweetness. The author comes from a family of curiosities, to say the least -- two of her sisters were Nazi sympathizers (one even married Sir Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists), one of her sisters ran away from home and became a writer, and she herself also wrote books that were described as "maliciously witty." I had expected something akin to Waugh with undertones of Gogol. I know -- it's best never to expect anything when entering a book, but I couldn't help it. I was a victim of too much information.
Needless to say, I didn't like it. Oh, I had so wanted to like it, and I tried to like it, and I read all of it just in case there was a hidden nugget in the end that will tie everything together in such a way that will warm my heart. I hated David Copperfield and Brothers Karamazov for the first 300 or so pages, after all, but then I loved them, and, as a famous authoress said, it came on so gradually that I was in the middle before I knew it had begun. Unfortunately, no such revelation happened here.
I won't spoil the book, just in case someone wants to read it, but in general terms, I never felt for the characters what the narrator clearly felt for them, and what I think the author meant for us to feel. I lukewarmly enjoyed the portrayal of the British aristocratic society that went a little mad when faced with a foreign and changing world during the two World Wars. There are layers, and it is written cleverly and well, but there was too much sarcasm for me, too much bitterness, and I never found the sweetness that everyone was talking about. Perhaps it is because I don't belong to the class of people that Nancy Mitford describes and I cannot feel nostalgic about them; the book is never quite atmospheric enough, never quite warm enough, never quite that something that makes you like even the saddest and bitterest of narratives. Whatever it is, I felt as an outsider looking in -- my attention was engaged but my emotions never touched.
If any of you have read either of these two books, please please let me know what you thought about it. I felt very alone in my antipathy. What am I missing here?