REVIEW: WHILE WE WERE WATCHING DOWNTON ABBEY BY WENDY WAX

WHILE WE WERE WATCHING DOWNTON ABBEY

Author: Wendy Wax
Orion RRP $19.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

As a non-TV watcher, I was a late starter to Downton Abbey. I’d heard good things about the Edwardian drama, but still, it took a year before I decided to borrow the DVD set from the library and give it a go. From the first episode, I did not look back and now, after the heart-wrenching drama that was Season 3, I can’t wait for Season 4.  It stands to reason then, that a book about people watching Downton Abbey who connect both with the series and with each other would appeal to me. After reading While We Were Watching Downton Abbey by Wendy Wax, all I want to make some popcorn, open a bottle of wine and sit down to watch the series all over again.

Edward, the concierge of a historic Atlanta apartment building invites his fellow residents to join him for weekly screenings of Downton Abbey. Three very different women turn up, each one at a loose end. There’s Samantha aka “rich bitch” who married young and for the wrong reason: the security of old Atlanta money for herself and for her orphaned brother and sister. Her marriage is falling apart and she doesn’t really understand why. There’s Claire, an empty nester now that her daughter is off to college; she’s supposed to be writing a historical romance but the words won’t come … and real life is more interesting anyway. And then there’s Brooke, newly divorced and dealing with an “assholic” ex-husband, who’s just discovering that life is no fairytale. Over the course of Seasons 1 and 2 of the show, the women learn about each other, but more importantly, about themselves. As it turns out, they are far more capable than they ever gave themselves credit for.

While We Were Watching Downton Abbey is an easy, fast read that will delight chick-lit readers, especially those who love the TV series. Regular watchers of the show will recognise parallels in the novel’s characters with those of the series: Edward and Carson the butler, Hunter (Samantha’s manipulative brother) and Thomas Barrow (a footman/valet in early seasons), Jonathon and Lord Grantham, and Cynthia Davis and the Dowager Countess … and more. I’ll let readers enjoy working them out. Other parallels include the old-world Alexander building and the historic Downton Abbey; the above and below-the-stairs feel within the Alexander (although less is known about the people who work ‘below the stairs) in which the wealthy are served by others; and the ‘motto’ of persistence, valor and discretion, drummed into Edward by his uncle, and which sounds very much like something Lord Grantham would say.

Although it’s a light read, themes of betrayal, identity crises, sibling conflict and mother-daughter relationships also feature; the strongest theme, however, is that of friendship and the bonds women forge in unexpected situations. It reminded me of some of the friendships I have with people very different to myself, which have grown to be strong and important because of, and despite, the differences. Although I connected with the women’s stories – mostly Samantha and Brooke’s (Claire’s seemed a little less developed) – what I found myself most drawn to were the links to Downton Abbey, through the parallels I’ve mentioned, and the quizzes and quotes peppered throughout the text. There was mention of a ‘Which Downton character are you?’ quiz, which I found myself trying out. Three different (not official) quizzes showed I’m Lady Sybil. I always liked her, so that’s good; I didn’t want to be an O’Brien!

Reading notes are also included with this book – click here. If you want to try the official ‘Which Downton Abbey character are you’ quiz, click here. I’d love to know who you are most like! PS. I tried this official quiz and it turns out I’m also like Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham … the one who gets all the best lines and is my favourite! Love Maggie Smith.

Available from good bookstores and Hachette Australia. This copy was courtesy of Hachette.

Bookish treat: Hot buttered popcorn and a glass of wine – see below.

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