Eleanor Berry gives us a privileged window on a world in which young ladies are idolised by their schoolmates for sexual dalliances with the staff, where punishments given out by mother are to learn passages from Shakespeare and the worst-case scenario is to be written out of someone’s will.
Daughter of newspaper baron Michael Berry, later Lord Hartnell, Eleanor is born into a life of privilege, yet rebels to join the Communist Party, taking herself off to Moscow at the tender age of 17. She later befriends rival newspaperman Robert Maxwell, and becomes privy to his household, causing problems at home.
Anecdote after short refrain drip from Eleanor’s pen, transporting us to her surreal and often absurd world in which she attends funerals as a young girl for entertainment, writes raunchy articles about her parent’s staff’s sex lives and affects a broad Northern Irish accent to avoid detection as a toff at university.
This is a household that berates their next-door neighbour John Gielgud (‘Stinker’) for his noisy parrot, host personalities such as Lord Rothermere and his wife Bubbles for lunch and has their chaise longue set on fire by Lady Olivier (Vivien Leigh)’s cigarette.
There are many ‘laugh out loud’ moments in this book, but it also has a serious side – Eleanor Berry has a strong mind for vengeance at any slight. Eleanor has also battled with mental health issues since a breakdown in her late teens, when she was prescribed, and continues to take, lithium for her bipolar disorder.
You could not make this book up, and neither has Eleanor Berry, which makes it all the better for reading. We ought to hail her as the new Queen of the Absurd.