x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

The Churchills: Restraint lets the family shine

This chronicle of the Churchill family's "extraordinary deeds" during the past 150 years breathes life into figures rendered distant by greatness.

The Churchills, Mary Lovell, Little Brown, Dh98
The Churchills, Mary Lovell, Little Brown, Dh98

When she first conceived of this book, Mary Lovell intended to write a record of the whole Churchill family. She soon realised that, even with her proven ability to spin a myriad of narratives (she traced the lives of all six sisters in her bestseller, The Mitford Girls) this was beyond the scope of one volume.

Instead she limits herself to the family's "extraordinary deeds, behaviour [and] achievement" during the past 150 years" - still a formidable brief.

But Lovell never allows herself to be over-faced or overawed. "The world has always thrived on gossip," she writes. Contemporary gossip properly sourced "can have a place in serious biography".

So we learn of this family's rackety love lives and peccadilloes; the eighth duke's unfortunate first wife, Albertha "Goosie", and her childish practical jokes; Duchess Fanny who sent fear through Blenheim Palace, the family's ancestral home, at the rustle of her skirts; Winston's mother Jennie, who "shone like the Evening Star", but whose husband inexplicably "separated himself from her physically" - an abiding sadness despite all the many lovers she took. And so bit by bit Lovell breathes life into figures rendered distant by greatness.