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About the book
  • Published: 14 November 2016
  • ISBN: 9780099571964
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 448
  • RRP: $40.00

The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother And Me

The extraordinary story of wildly eccentric people and the house they lived in.

Faringdon House in Oxfordshire was the home of Lord Berners, composer, writer, painter, friend of Stravinsky and Gertrude Stein, a man renowned for his eccentricity – masks, practical jokes, a flock of multi-coloured doves – and his homosexuality. Before the war he made Faringdon an aesthete’s paradise, where exquisite food was served to many of the great minds, beauties and wits of the day.

Since the early thirties his companion there was Robert Heber-Percy, twenty-eight years his junior, wildly physical, unscholarly, a hothead who rode naked through the grounds, loved cocktails and nightclubs, and was known to all as the Mad Boy. If the two men made an unlikely couple, at a time when homosexuality was illegal, the addition to the household in 1942 of a pregnant Jennifer Fry, a high society girl known to be ‘fast’, as Robert’s wife was simply astounding.

After Victoria was born the marriage soon foundered (Jennifer later married Alan Ross). Berners died in 1950, leaving Robert in charge of Faringdon, aided by a ferocious Austrian housekeeper who strove to keep the same culinary standards in a more austere age. This was the world Sofka Zinovieff, Victoria’s daughter, a typical child of the sixties, first encountered at the age of seventeen. Eight years later, to her astonishment, Robert told her he was leaving her Faringdon House.

Her book about Faringdon and its people is marvellously witty and full of insight, bringing to life a vanished world and the almost fantastical people who lived in it.

  • Pub date: 14 November 2016
  • ISBN: 9780099571964
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 448
  • RRP: $40.00

About the Author

Sofka Zinovieff

Sofka Zinovieff was born in London in 1961. She studied social anthropology at Cambridge, then lived in Greece and Moscow. She is the author of three previous books, Eurydice Street: A Place in Athens, Red Princess: A Revolutionary Life (both Granta) and The House on Paradise Street. She is married to a Greek and lives in Athens.

Praise for The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother And Me

“As classy and consuming a memoir as you’re likely to read all autumn.”

Caroline Sanderson, Bookseller

“Prepare to be seduced by outlandish delights and strange creatures.”

Sebastian Shakespeare, Tatler


Daisy Goodwin, Sunday Times

“A vivid sketch of the extraordinarily glamourous society of Faringdon in its heyday, especially during the 30s.”

Dinah Birch, Guardian

“Zinovieff is an entertaining and amiable companion on this, at times, uncomfortable romp through her family saga.”

Sara Wheeler, The Times

“Formidably researched and wonderfully enjoyable book.”

Mark Amory, Oldie

“I enjoyed every word.”

Mary Killen, Lady

“A book that is unputdownable and…gloriously lavish, something fascinating to gaze at on every page.”

Rachel Cooke, Observer

“This book is a must-read.”

Susan Hill, Spectator

“It’s an extraordinary story, well told and illustrated.”

Choice Magazine

“The delicacy of Zinovieff’s perceptions, the abiding redolence of her descriptions and the captivating moods of her subjects make The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me a book of rare pleasure.”

Richard Davenport-Hines, The Times Literary Supplement

“Sofka…brings to life a vanished world and the almost fantastical people who lived in it.”

Oxford Times

“A dazzling account of the house and the fascinating people who formed its unique character.”

Cressida Connolly, Town & Country

“It was the story that everyone wanted told, and [Zinovieff] was the person to tell it.”


“Look no further, if you have a soft spot for posh people behaving badly.”

Robbie Millen, The TImes

“Classy and compelling.”

Fanny Blake, Woman and Home

“Zinovieff’s book is witty and full of insight – rather like opening a bottle of Champagne.”

Mayfair Magazine

“A compelling read.”

The Economist

“Delivers an entertaining dose of British country life and high-style scandal.”

Nora Krug, Washington Post

“Lavishly illustrated, beautifully produced.”

Philip Borg-Wheeler, 5 stars, Classical Music

“Wonderfully bizarre family memoir.”

Libby Purves, The Times

“An entertaining and amiable companion.”

Sara Wheeler, The Times

“A witty memoir that provides insight into the aristocratic and arty pre-war circles of England.”

Olinda Adeane, House and Garden

“Beautifully written and generously illustrated.”

Jane Shilling, Daily Mail

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