For a reader unfamiliar with Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love, India Knight’s reimagining would be a perfect comfort read: the kind of book you take into the bath and keep reading even when the water has gone cold, a one-sitting dark-at-four joy.

Briefly, then, for that reader: teenage Linda Radlett lives in “the very definition of emptiness” (north Norfolk). Marooned in a tiny hamlet with her rock-star father Matthew, wafting bohemian mother Sadie, many siblings and narrator cousin Frances for company, Linda dreams of the future: mostly love affairs, with a side order of freedom. Darling is the story of her growing up: the people she meets; the men she falls in love with; and her friendship, enduring and eternal, with Frances.

This is a book full of lovely things: clothes and curtains and old Apple Mac computers in “boiled-sweet pink”. There are good lovely things, owned by the creative bohemians (squashy sofas, dogs, “square-cut antique emerald cufflinks”), and bad lovely things, owned by the Ukip-voting parvenus (Hunter wellies) and the faux-commie Etonians (slim hardback novels).

As well as Mitford, there is something of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s much-adored Cazalet Chronicles in here, plus elements of Eva Rice’s The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets and Barbara Trapido’s Brother of the More Famous Jack. Darling belongs in the pantheon of books that feel a bit like opening up a doll’s house to show the impeccable precision of the world within. The lamp really turns on; the radio really plays. The front comes off to show these other lives, and golden light is reflected back on to the reader.

We might call this, as a genre, novels of the interior: interiors of places, and interiors of people. It’s easy to dismiss the domestic, but if home is where the heart is, the heart is where all humanity happens. And Darling is a very human book, full of feelings and heartbreak and humour and joy.

And yet, how much of that is India Knight and how much is Nancy Mitford? This is the difficult question when considering a retelling of a book that feels as fresh and alive as Mitford’s 1945 classic. The Pursuit of Love has scarcely been out of print since initial publication, and is not yet out of copyright. Only last year it was adapted, gloriously, by Emily Mortimer for the BBC. A second series is in development. The Radletts, interwar edition, are thriving.

Knight’s reimagining uses the same characters; the same relationships; many of the same jokes. There is something discombobulating about characters you know being almost but not quite themselves. Yet Knight writes from the same sensibility as Mitford, with an easy facility for social observation and caustic charm. If the Radletts of the 21st century are perhaps a little less extraordinary than the Radletts of the 20th, they still leap off the page with warmth and chaos. Knight’s characters are sparky and fun, and in some cases their relationships are crafted with more care than in Mitford’s original.

This is perhaps because Knight, free from the innate pressures of the roman à clef, has enough distance for clarity. Her Radlett family is warm and secure, in spite of it all, because the parents adore each other. Their love, Knight writes, “permeated the house like the smell of a pie baking”. They dance to Kate Bush. They wink at each other. They talk openly about sex. Mitford never wrote a really good marriage (Fanny’s husband, in Pursuit and sequels, is the very definition of a nonentity), and it’s tempting to wonder whether she ever could. Darling, it must be said, is all the better for Matthew and Sadie’s delight in one another: it makes the characters make sense. Is that added clarity reason enough to rewrite The Pursuit of Love? Maybe. And it’s always a delight to find something new to carry you through winter; Knight rises to that challenge with aplomb.

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