I ran across the movie version of this a few years ago, and I absolutely LOVED it. Kate Beckinsale was adorable in it (apparently it was made before she turned into a plastic skeleton) and some hilarious and wonderful character performances were turned in by Sir Ian McKellan, Joanna Lumley, Rufus Sewell, and Stephen Fry. I finally managed to get my hands on the book a few weeks ago, and I hoped it would be equally entertaining.
The plot concerns modern young woman Flora Poste, who, after being orphaned, leaves 1920s/30s London to go live with her distant relatives the Starkadders on their rural farm. The Starkadders turn out to be a dreadfully weird and dysfunctional bunch, and Flora sets her sights on using her common sense and modern sensibilities to "straighten up" the lot of them. There's gloomy Aunt Judith (who is obsessed with her son Seth); Uncle Amos the fire-and-brimstone rural preacher; cousin Reuben, the farmer; cousin Seth, the local Lothario; Elfine, the wild waif who is in love with a boy from a high-born family...plus numerous cousins and hired men and other troublesome rural inhabitants. At the center of it all is Flora's biggest challenge--mad Aunt Ada Doom, who once saw something nasty in the woodshed...or maybe the bicycle shed. Or the potting shed... Flora arrives to take charge of the farm, and her story is the hysterical tale of her attempts to deal with the Starkadders.
In some ways the book was just as wonderful, and in others it was a tad disappointing. The story was still populated by the same wacky, bizarre characters, but on the whole the tale was a bit darker than the film. Obviously, there were some characters and subplots cut from the book, but I didn't think they were much missed in the film. The characters and their dialogue were fabulous and funny, though the Flora of the book is a bit more of a haughty bitch than the Flora of the film, who is still haughty but generally with good intentions. Also, the language in the book can sometimes get a bit flowery, but those passages tend to be relatively short, and are mostly descriptions from Flora's "literary" point of view.
On the whole, I enjoyed both the film and the book and would recommend either to someone who enjoys period comedies.