So. The Secret Countess. This was my first time reading Eva Ibbotson and it was very easy to lose myself in the story in just a few pages. Her writing is enchanting; all her books seem to have this touch of the fantastic and it is that very element that has made me her fan. And why not? We read books on dystopia, books that are so real that they leave us reeling, books that are high on intellect, books that increase and expand the dimensions of our minds. So why not a riches-to rags-to riches love story set in a beautiful mansion in post World War One England, between a young earl and a Russian refugee?
Rupert and Anna make such delightful protagonists that you can't help loving them both. Eva Ibbotson has a gift of making her characters do exactly what she wants them to do and more importantly, making her readers like or hate a character at her bidding. The book overflows with such lovely and horrid people alike.
The story is simple enough: Rupert, a pilot from WW1 is the new Earl of Mersham and during the war he meets and gets engaged to Muriel Hardwicke, a rich and beautiful heiress. Anna, a Russian countess is driven penniless along with her family and they flee to England for safety. Rupert never wanted to be an earl but with the death of his elder brother, this duty has been thrust upon him; Anna must seek work to support her poverty-stricken family and the employment agency sends her to Mersham as an under-house maid. So what happens when Anna and Rupert meet and become acquainted with each other? Whom does Rupert really love? The blindingly beautiful Muriel who barely fits into his life and looks upon everything and everyone he holds dear with contempt or Anna, thin Anna in her simple brown dress with the work hardened hands? Anna with her long dark hair and huge dark eyes that Rupert suddenly can't get out of his head? Although new, Anna is Mersham; her love for the house, the various eccentrics she comes to meet, all of it hurtle towards a heady climax when she falls in love with the newly-engaged Earl of Mersham. And you can't help loving her. Anna with the earnestness, her Russian, her sensitivity, her love for St.Petersburg and her italics.
The Secret Countess is a sumptuous novel with such wonderful descriptions of St.Peter's fabled city and of generally all things Russian that I perfectly agree with Ollie Byrne when she says that she wants to be Russian! I love this book for what it is, whatever imperfections it might have, it is such an engaging story that I never really noticed them. The Secret Countess is a book for weekends and vacations; for lazy afternoons when you have nothing to do and you are in the mood to read a story about Anna and Rupert and how they loved each other. Once upon a time, in London......