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Book Review: A Calamity of Mannerings by Joanna Nadin

Book Review: A Calamity of Mannerings by Joanna Nadin

On the cusp of turning seventeen, Panth Mannering is a spirited teenager knocking on the door of womanhood. She’s ready for her entrance into the gilded world of high society but life has other ideas for her unconventional family. Thanks to their father’s sad and untimely demise, the Mannerings have fallen into genteel poverty. With only daughters, there’s no male heir to inherit the estate and the family are soon forced to move in with their curmudgeonly grandmother who’s anti everything – particularly the Mannering girls’ free-thinking, less than ladylike behaviour.

But their fall in station is the least of Panth’s troubles. She’s ready to capture herself an eligible man, yet she’s decidedly inexperienced when it comes to the opposite sex. The only boys she’s ever spent significant time with are her gay cousin Valentine and the local doctor’s son Freddy Spencer, but they hardly count when one is an actual relation and the other practically family. So when a swoonsome American called Buck Buchanan sweeps into town, Panth is instantly smitten. And she’s not the only one. Buck is the prize all the entitled debutantes hope to win and Panth is determined to claim him for herself.

Told in the form of entertaining and candid diary entries, Joanna Nadin’s A Calamity of Mannerings combines the knowing coming-of-age plights of Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle with the high society glitz and scandal of Bridgerton. Add in a dash of Little Women sisterly devotion and some caustic Jane Austen wit, and the result is a thoroughly enjoyable YA rom-com that’s full of heart, humour and the awkwardness of oblivious adolescence. Set against the shifting historical backdrop of the 1920’s, it chronicles a year in the life of Panth as she tries to find a way forward in a world without her beloved father to guide her.

It is a curse to be born a girl. There, I’ve said it. If not out loud, then on paper, and in crimson Indian ink. Aster says the shade is tasteless, but I say it is just the thing for chronicling the downfall of us Mannerings…”

Panth’s romantic pursuits take up most of the book and she’ll have you laughing, wincing and relating with her all the way. Yet as much as this is a story about a teenager falling in love for the first time and figuring out who’s actually worth her time and her heart, it’s also a tale of a family putting themselves back together again after a great loss. Through Panth’s eyes we witness the wildness of her younger sister Marigold and the tormented angst of her elder sister Aster, exploring just how unfair life was for women who didn’t fit into the typical mould of what ladies were supposed to be in the early 20th century.

This is a celebratory and inclusive novel that champions sisterhood, individuality and following your heart, even if you don’t quite know where it’s going to take you. Despite being inexperienced in most aspects of adult life, Panth has very firm views on almost everything. At one point she compares herself to Jane Austen’s matchmaking Emma Woodhouse. It’s true that she’s certainly a little like Austen’s clever, independent titular protagonist, but mostly because she’s painfully ignorant of the charming gem of a man under her very nose. Freddy is the epitome of a gentleman and though he’s woefully overshadowed by Buck for much of the novel, it’s always clear to readers who the real prize is. We just have to patiently wait for Panth herself to catch up.

Aside from the Mannering sisters and Freddy, there are some truly scene stealing characters – notably Grandma, who evokes Maggie Smith’s acerbically scathing Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey. With young Marigold being a bit of a Gerald Durrell, the book is chock full of animals too – from cats and sheep to frogs and rabbits, all of whom add to the wonderful madness of the Mannerings. Then there’s Panth’s long-suffering and endlessly patient mother, who always puts her daughters first and wishes for them to be happy above everything else. Every family needs a Marmee-like matriarch to hold them together.

A Calamity of Mannerings is a novel that gets better and better with every chapter. So much so that when you reach the end, you’ll genuinely feel sad to say goodbye to Panth, her chaotic family and sweet, understanding Freddy. I’d gladly read not just a sequel but a whole series about these characters. And I’m sure I’m not the only one.


A Calamity of Mannerings was published by UCLan on 4 May 2023

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