I did enjoy the book but it loses steam half way through and it was then that the constant use of anachronistic language really began to annoy me. In 1954, would anyone have described a snowy scene as “pure Narnia”, or assumed that everyone would understand a reference to Gandalf? True, Lewis’s and Tolkien’s books had been published, but they were not common currency as they are today. I also imagine that the proprietor of a London café at the time would have been pretty surprised to be asked for a hamburger and a glass of wine. I can’t believe that a gently-reared girl like Penelope, just out of school, would have made a joke about a ‘well hung’ picture, but the author couldn’t resist her own wit.
In spite of nods to Princess Margaret, Hancock’s Half Hour and Good Housekeeping magazine plus knowing hints that this new American singer Elvis Presley will be big one day, there is very little period feel to the book. I don’t know how to classify it: not quite historical fiction, not quite a modern romance. For genuine 1950s zeitgeist, try That Uncertain Feeling by Kingsley Amis; for an upper class romp, read Pandora by Jilly Cooper. If you want to read about how the War affected an upper class family living in the country, read One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes. (This was first published in 1947 but is easy to find because it was reissued by Virago.) The Lost Art is not as good as any of these, but I shall probably read it again, which must explain its success.