I fully recommend Mark Colvin’s journalistic memoir, Light and Shadow: Memoirs of a Spy’s Son.
The ABC’S esteemed journalist has given us a potted history of the last fifty years as he describes the adventures of himself and others as well as a touching memoir of his youth and his relationship with his father who was, indeed, a spy.
Have you read any of the novels written by Elizabeth Jane Howard? They are all set in the Home Counties among upper-middle class people (like herself), very observant and perceptive. They used to be regarded as romantic but as time passes her books are admired for the very truthful picture they paint of that sort of English family. The five books which make up the Cazalet Chronicles are The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion, Casting Off and All Change.
A TV version was made of the first two and I think now BBC radio is also broadcasting them. There are two collections of good short stories as well. They are called The Long View and Getting it Right. I’ve just read her biography Elizabeth Jane Howard: A Dangerous Innocence by Artemis Cooper and it is absolutely full of literary gossip.
She was always known as Jane, she was a prodigious entertainer and cook, still writing in her nineties and famous also for her three husbands and many lovers, who included Arthur Koestler, Laurie Lee and Cecil Day-Lewis (only the best literati). Her first husband was Peter Scott, (the birdlife man) and longest lasting third husband was Kingsley Amis. Martin Amis publicly thanks her for making sure he got a proper education. As he says, “rescuing me from the arms of Harold Robbins and such like”. Hilary Mantel is a fan.
Artemis Cooper, daughter of John Julius Norwich and granddaughter of Lady Diana Cooper, is of course in a good position to write such an enjoyable biography. Her previous effort was Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure which was the authorised biography of the greatest travel writer of the twentieth century, who was great pals with Lady Diana Cooper and Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, and lots of other women also.
Just out now you can have Dashing to the Post: The Letters of Patrick Leigh Fermor selected and edited by Adam Sisman (who recently wrote John le Carré: The Biography. His introduction to the letters, could serve you as a shortened version of the biography of the gad-about known as Paddy.
Frankly, I can see why he hadn’t finished the third volume of his account of his famous walk, in the Thirties, from London to Constantinople. He spent an awful lot of time writing letters – but rather wonderful letters. Artemis Cooper and Colin Thubron (another great travel writer), finished the third volume for him after he died in his nineties. The three volumes are called A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water and The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos.
For another amusing and interesting book from this time try Deborah Devonshire’s Wait for Me: Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister. It was a New York Times Bestseller. Artemis Cooper is married to Antony Beevor with whom she wrote Paris after the Liberation: 1944-1949. I won’t go on about Antony Beevor, except to say ALL HIS BOOKS ARE GOOD. I am sure you know him.
Admirers of the writings of Jan Morris will pounce upon Ariel: A Literary Life of Jan Morris by Derek Johns, who was her literary agent. For some, her most famous book is Conundrum describing her transition from male to female but I prefer her wonderful descriptions of places such as Oxford, Venice or Sydney, or Spain. She preferred not to be known as a travel writer because, as she said, she didn’t move around!
As James Morris she was known for many fascinating works of history including the Pax Brittanica Trilogy describing the British Empire. This is made up of Heaven’s Command: An Imperial Progress, then Pax Brittanica: The Climax of Empire and finally Farewell the Trumpets: An Imperial Retreat. These will fit in nicely with Julia Baird’s wonderful new book on Victoria: The Queen - An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire.
For a bit of satirical fun I recommend the latest adventures of Plant, Michael Wilding’s investigator who is now investigating decriminalisation of marijuana, In the Valley of the Weed.
Distinguished historian and intellectual Inga Clendinnen died recently. You will find all of her books available at Abbey’s varying from The Cost of Courage in Aztec Society and her essays Reading the Holocaust, Agamemnon’s Kiss, Tiger’s Eye: A Memoir, True Stories: On History, Truth, Aboriginality and Politics, Dancing with Strangers, about the arrival of settlers in Australia, even The History Question: Who Owns the Past? which appeared in a Quarterly Essay.
I was in Abbey’s for the launch of Naida Haxton’s memoir called Res Gestae: Things Done. Naida was the first practicing female barrister in Queensland and later became the Editor of the NSW Law Reports. Her book will inspire many more legal females.
The shop was looking lovely – absolutely full of books! Don’t forget that upstairs you can find Language Book Centre and Galaxy Bookshop for science fiction. If you want to use the lift ask one of the staff to show you where it is located in the lobby.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all,
Since 1968 ~ Abbey's 131 York Street Sydney ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers