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The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother, and Me

An Aristocratic Family, a High-Society Scandal, and an Extraordinary Legacy

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About the Book

Like The Bolter and Portrait of a Marriage, this beguiling, heady tale of a scandalous ménage à trois among England's upper classes combines memoir and biography to re-create an unforgettably decadent world.

Among the glittering stars of British society, Sofka Zinovieff's grandparents lived and loved with abandon. Robert Heber-Percy was a dashing young man who would rather have a drink than open a book, so his involvement with Jennifer Fry, a gorgeous socialite famous for her style and charm, was not surprising. But by the time Robert met and married Jennifer, he had already been involved with a man—Gerald, Lord Berners—for more than a decade.

Stout, eccentric and significantly older, Gerald was a composer, writer and aesthete—a creative aristocrat most at home in the company of the era's best and brightest minds. He also owned one of Britain's loveliest stately homes, Faringdon House, in Oxfordshire, which under his stewardship became a beacon of sybaritic beauty. Robert and Gerald made an unlikely couple, especially because they lived together at Faringdon House when homosexuality was illegal. And then a pregnant Jennifer moved into Faringdon in 1942, creating a formidable ménage à trois.

In this gorgeous, entertaining narrative of bohemian aristocracy, Sofka Zinovieff probes the mysteries of her grandparents and the third man in their marriage: Gerald, the complex and talented heir to a legendary house, its walls lined with priceless art and its gardens roamed by a bevy of doves, where he entertained everyone from Igor Stravinsky to Gertrude Stein. What brought Robert and Jennifer together under his roof, and why did Jennifer stay—and marry Robert?

Blending memoir and biography in her quest to lay old ghosts to rest, Zinovieff pieces together the complicated reality behind the scandals of revelry and sexuality. The resulting story, defined by keen insight, deep affection and marvelous wit, captures the glory and indulgence of the age, and explores the many ways in which we have the capacity to love.

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Critical Praise

“[A] delightful portrait of one of England’s great eccentrics…. Rich in glamorous scandal….Witty, empathetic, and stylish.” —Miranda Seymour, New York Times Book Review

“Ms. Zinovieff handles her flamboyant material with considerable tact and finesse…. It makes for ghoulishly irresistible reading.” —Wall Street Journal

“[A] delicious family history.… Zinovieff works her own kind of magic.” —Boston Globe

“[A] well-researched, engaging memoir.” —Washington Post

“Meet the hosts of 1930s England’s most lavish soirees, complete with diamond-clad pets and no shortage of bed-hopping.... Riveting.” —Town & Country

“Superbly illustrated.... The Mad Boy is an absorbing as well as original book, which replaces the monographic vectors of biography with something more curious and multifarious, nonetheless brought into a haunting and satisfying shape.” —Alan Hollinghurst, New York Review of Books

“Ms Zinovieff’s narrative tone is cool and clear enough to let its astonishing characters, and her relationship with them, come alive; that makes for a compelling read.” —The Economist

“The intrigue surrounding these unusual and formidable individuals is an instant hook, which is only enhanced by their personal histories and struggles.… While highlighting eccentricities, glamour, and downright debauchery, Zinovieff is also able to capture the humanity in what is a fascinating and eye-opening ancestral history.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“A vibrant tapestry…. [An] entertaining story of an unconventional family and their shared trait of flouting convention across generations.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Zinovieff is an entertaining and amiable companion on this, at times, uncomfortable romp through her family saga.” —The Times (London)

“A heady account of the scandal-filled lives of a group of 1930s aesthetes.... Sumptuous.” —Daisy Goodwin, Sunday Times, (London)

“A vivid sketch of …extraordinarily glamorous society…in its heyday.” —The Guardian (London)

“Written with a poet’s precision.... The delicacy of Zinovieff’s perceptions, the abiding redolence of her descriptions, and the captivating moods of her subjects make...[this] a rare pleasure. It stands at the top of its genre.” —Richard Davenport-Hines, Times Literary Supplement (London)

“Prepare to be seduced by outlandish delights and strange creatures.” —Tatler, U.K.

“This absorbing, candid, critical and loving tale of a truly unusual setup looks beyond the clear description of its four title characters....Zinovieff brings the whole stage to life and there isn’t a character…whom one wouldn’t dearly wish to meet.” —Alexander Waugh, The Literary Review

“Sofka Zinovieff has written the strange, and strangely moving, tale of her family’s unorthodox relationships. By turns comical, tragicomical, and melodramatic....[An] extraordinary family saga.” —Mirabel Cecil, The Spectator

“Formidably researched and wonderfully enjoyable.” —The Oldie, U.K.

“[A] fascinating, quirky, and oddly moving must-read hybrid biography-memoir. . .” —Advocate.com

“A thorough…look into a long lost world.” —The Gay & Lesbian Review

Product Details

  • ISBN: 9780062338969
  • ISBN 10: 006233896X
  • Imprint: Harper
  • On Sale: 03/31/2015
  • Pages: 448
  • List Price: 24.99 CAD
  • BISAC1: BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Literary
  • BISAC2: BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Personal Memoirs
  • BISAC3: BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Rich & Famous

The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother, and Me by Sofka Zinovieff

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