Monday, August 06, 2007

A Countess Below Stairs, Eva Ibbotson

Title: A Countess Below Stairs
Author: Eva Ibbotson
Published: 1997, Avon (Reissued 2007, Penguin Speak)
Category: Romantic fiction/ YA
Rating: 8/10

I was in the mood for something light and cheerful, so I picked this one up last week. I'd ordered it after Rosario chose it as one of her books for the Lesser Known Favorites Meme. She said it was light and funny and romantic. And she was right. As usual. ;)

Anna Grazinsky comes to England as a refugee after the Russian Revolution. Her family was high in the Russian aristocracy, her father a count and friend of the Tsar. They've lost all their money, and the only work that Anna is able to find is as a housemaid at the country estate of Rupert, the Earl of Westerholme. Though she knows nothing about being a servant and the staff is wary of her strangeness, she is so cheerful and hardworking that she soon becomes most beloved by both the family above stairs and the staff below.

Post-WWI England being rather difficult for many of the landed gentry, the cash-strapped Earl has been lucky enough to find an heiress to marry, and the household staff is busily preparing to receive his fiancee. When she arrives, however, she begins offending people right and left, and soon people are feeling very sorry for poor Rupert. And it doesn't help that Anna and Rupert have become rather more than just friendly.

This book made me so, so happy! The edition I have (reissued this year) was released by a YA imprint and it does feel a bit YA-ish, mostly because it is all very sweet and innocent, a Cinderella story retold. But it is a very intelligent book too, chock full of interesting allusions---everything from Dido's lament at Carthage and women giving out white feathers in WWI to the study of eugenics. The European setting and Anna's Russian heritage I found completely charming.

Anna is a delightful character. One of those perfect people who you might want to hate because they're so perfect, but can't because they are simply too nice. She's gone from being a pampered princess (who somehow manages to avoid becoming a spoiled brat) to working as a servant, and she still throws herself into life with a joy that makes her existence (and everyone's she comes into contact with) a brighter and happier place.

The romance was lovely too, though for once it wasn't what I loved most about the book. ;) Rupert is the sensitive, intelligent, thoughtful sort of hero, which I always like, though there were a couple of places where I thought he acted a bit stupid for such an intelligent guy. But whatever. The plot ties up with painstaking tidiness, making it completely unbelievable, but as it's a fairy tale, it didn't bother me at all! The huge cast of lovable characters is what makes this a great read.

Before I picked this up I was in a bit of a reading funk, and this book just catapulted me right out of it. It was one of those times when the book I picked up suited my mood perfectly and really made my day. So thanks to Rosario for the recommendation. ;)

I've been to the library and gotten two more Ibbotsons. I'm hoping they're as good.


Marg said...

This sounds good! I've added it to my list!

Rosario said...

I'm very happy to hear you liked it, Jennie.

I'm very surprised to hear it's been released as YA, because I didn't get that vibe from it at all!

Anonymous said...

I've just added this to my Amazon basket - your line "This book made me so, so happy!" sold it to me. I've had one of those days at work and I need de-stressing!

It's been published as YA in the UK as well (am assuming Young Picador is a YA publisher, that is) and also under a different name "The Secret Countess" (and yes, I double-checked it was the right book!). Original publishing date is 1981 ( so it's a classic :-)

Jennie said...

Marg--Definitely check it out!

Rosario--I think that publishers are looking for things to put into the teen lines because they are often selling better than romance. So anything like this (with no sex) is being tried out there. I'm just guessing. I was definitely published previously as adult fiction.

Li--Oh, sorry your day wasn't great. A happy book is definitely called for. ;)
Ibbotson lives in England now, according to her bio. Grew up in Vienna. I googled her too because I was curious if she had a website or new books coming up. But Wiki says she was born in 1925, which means she's over 80. So, doubtful we'll be seeing any more books from her.

Is 25 years old a classic? Lol. I guess so.

Anonymous said...

Might be marketed as YA to try to catch the readers that read her children's books.
I've only read one of those: 'Journey to the River Sea' - which has a 2001 copyright, so she has been writing that recently.
I think I've read four or five of her adult titles, and enjoyed them all.

dancechica said...

I've heard a lot of good about this author. I have A Company of Swans I think it's called, on my Amazon wishlist, but it's not scheduled for re-release until September, I think.

Jennie said...

Marianne--Yep, I bet you're right. She has written a lot of children's books.

Dance Chica--A Company of Swans is one of the ones I got from the library and I just started it earlier today actually! It's really good so far. About a British girl who becomes a ballerina with a troupe that travels to South America. :) I didn't realize they were reissuing it.

Mailyn said...

I've been MIA so I've missed your last couple of posts but I just wanted to say hi and ask if you read Twilight or New Moon. I know vamps aren't your thing but they were good so I don't remember if you did. I'm asking because the third book came out yesterday. LOL.

Jennie said...

Hi Mailyn! No, I've never read any Meyer. I've thought about it, but like you say vamps are not my thing. And teenage vamps seem even more not my thing. But I may give Twilight a shot some day---so many people seem to love it so. :)

Anonymous said...

I read this all saturday night!! I couldn't put it down!! I have been sick so i took a trip to the local barnes and noble and it stuck out to me. I went and bought her others the next day. Almost finished with "The morning gift" and am really into this one also but since i had to return to work i cant get the fast turn around I had with the first one!! I highly recomend this author!! Its been a fun treat!!

Cathy said...

I agree, i utterly adore The Secret Countess!
After i read it I went on to read three others by Eva Ibbotson and i loved each one as much as the last.

However, The Secret Countess will always be my absolute favourite