I've waited a long time to read this, and in fact had just realised that, in possession of a British Library reader's ticket, I now could get my hands on it - only to find that Penguin were republishing it. Nancy Mitford didn't want it published in her lifetime, telling Evelyn Waugh in 1951 that "too much has happened for jokes about Nazis to be regarded as funny or as anything but the worst of taste". Charlotte Mosley's introduction reminds us of the family row which ensued on its first publication in 1934, with Unity Mitford and Diana Mosley both seriously offended by Nancy's mockery of their political commitments.
The book casts a satirical eye over the trappings of fascism as practiced by the British Union of Fascists, including its casual violence, vague patriotism, appropriation of national artifacts and passion for uniforms. Eugenia Malmains, "the largest heiress in England", is the chief proponent of the novel's "Union Jackshirt" movement; as a portrait of Unity Mitford she comes across as both quite mad and quite charming, which seems to be true to life as far as my reading about Unity goes; her charm allows Nancy to expose the ease by which people can be attracted to fascism and the superficial reasons they may have for joining the cause. Perhaps the best joke in the book is Nancy's creation of Peersmont, a lunatic asylum specialising in the care of insane members of the House of Lords, which incorporates a replica of the Houses of Parliament and allows the Lords to go about their business with no hint that they are, in fact, incarcerated. Lord Driburgh, an inmate, has an enthusiasm for fascism that satirises similar views expressed by real members of the interwar House of Lords, including, for a time, Nancy's own father.
The pace of the novel is hectic and culminates in a pageant which, unsurprisingly, descends into violence. Woven around the satires are some rather cynical love stories in which dissipated young men search for heiresses to keep them; Nancy had just married Peter Rodd. The character of Mrs Case, the local beauty, I found rather pointless; she seems to be there only to create some opposition to the Jackshirts, in the form of her group of aesthetic young hangers-on, not as tame or as feeble as they look. Fascinating older beauties of this type were a regular feature in Nancy's early novels and presumably she couldn't quite let her go for this one.