Are you going to read ‘something serious and improving’ whilst in the continued lockdown? Dante has been mentioned by some, and Proust, James Joyce’s Ulysses. All of which – if you haven’t already read them and are not rolling your eyes at the prospect – would be fascinating and fulfilling, should you be feeling strong and really focused.
However, I’m not feeling either right now. Focus is tricky because of the ongoing pall of uncertainty, and my strength is being mustered for keeping it all together and not sinking into worries about the future.
With this in mind, I’m suggesting three books I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, which won’t require huge reserves of attention, but will keep you absorbed, hopefully, in those extra hours when previously you might have been out partying or wandering round the shops. Sigh… They’re very different, and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but here goes.
American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld. This is about a woman who marries a man who later becomes the President of the United States. She’s from an ordinary background, catapulted into a privileged, high-profile American family. It’s about love, power, wealth and class. Beautifully written, I was completely absorbed in Alice’s complex story. I didn’t want it to end.
Home from Home, by Veronica Henry
On a lighter note, Home from Home, by Veronica Henry. This is a warm, comforting family drama about two feuding families in the West Country. Great characters and a flowing narrative that makes you eager for more. But the main character is Dragonfly Farm, where most of the action takes place. It’s been the home of the Melchiors for generations – they make cider there – and is so charmingly described, so vivid and appealing, you just want to jump in the car and go and live there too. You’ll forget Covid ever existed.
And thirdly, a moment of true escapism. Lady in Waiting, My extraordinary life in the shadow of the Crown, by Anne Glenconner. This is a memoir about the life of one of Princess Margaret’s ladies in waiting. Anne is a posh bird, from a long line of posh blokes: Norfolk estate, hunting, shooting, fishing, grand balls and inherited wealth – you know the thing. It’s a proper bird’s eye view, too, of all the snobbism, tradition and crazy indulgences of these people. But alongside the ridiculousness are some very real tragedies Anne has had to face – she’s still alive, at 87 – two of her grown up sons dying and a third nursed back from a near fatal motorbike accident. It’s all bonkers, how these people lived, the things Anne put up with at her husband’s hand and the expectations of a girl born into such a family at such a time. But gripping and oddly moving, even though Anne’s voice is quite measured, and even if you’re not a royalist.