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Amaryllis: Holiday Essentials

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I’m not really a fan of summer: not since I said goodbye to those halcyon days of long school holidays which, depending on how rose-tinted the mind’s eye seem to be have been spent either on beaches or campsites in a never-ending heat haze or in a caravan or car on a Welsh beach whilst the rain fell day after day after day…
Until recently, summer in the city has meant conditions similar to those found in the Inferno: unrelenting heat bouncing off from pavements and buildings; dust and pollution magnified by the heat; humidity equal to living and working in a sauna; human beings transported between home and work in conditions illegal for animals. No sooner had people wiped the pervading grey slush from their feet than they were mopping their brows and complaining of the heat…
But then I moved to live by the seaside and I am loving this summer! It is a rarity, this sort of summer: early in the year and almost continuous blue skies to wake up to every morning; day-long sunshine tempered by a fresh breeze blowing off the sea; golden fields of wheat bordering the train track on my way in to work; swifts reeling and dipping against glorious sunsets. Not even the sporting tragedy of the elimination of the Nureyev of the tennis court could dampen my spirits this time. At the risk of hubris and for fear of nemesis (we read Philip Roth in my last book group) it does make even this glass half empty spirit feel a bit happier. I am even returning to the Welsh coast for a few days next week…
Most importantly, this is the ideal weather in which to read – my preferred place is either my balcony or when this becomes too hot, sprawled on the floor with the French doors wide open, soflty caressed by the breeze, cats similarly sprawled by my side! But one does need to choose which books carefully and I have so these are my suggestions for essential summer reading:
I always like to include a crime novel so I have chosen Total Chaos by Jean-Claude Izzo which has just been reissued. It is the first of the Marseilles Trilogy. I have never been to Marseilles but feel summoned by this book, it is a real love story to the port but also a hard-hitting noir mystery of corruption and murder.
My non-fiction choice is The Last of the Duchess by Caroline Moorhead which is actually not currently published in this country, though I am encouraging a pet publisher to bring it out again. It is a fascinating and hilarious account of Caroline’s attempts to get an interview or even proof as to the condition of The elderly Duchess of Windsor incarcerated in her house in Paris and fiercely guarded by her lawyer Maître Blum. Caroline also garners background details from several former acquaintances of the Duchess, now batty old ladies but wonderfully entertaining in the memories.
I like to take a classic along with me in case all else fails and this time I am going for Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham. I have been re-reading Maugham this year and have been reminded what a wonderful teller of tales he is so I am looking forward to re-discovering this one.
My two general fiction titles are new books: Teethmarks on my Tongue by Eileen Battersby which is a coming of age story with a truly original heroine. I became wholly invested in her story, I loved this book.
The other is much shorter, Sweet Days of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy which has that most popular of settings – a boarding school! In this case in Switzerland but it is less Malory Towers, more Picnic at Hanging Rock…

About Amaryllis


Amaryllis is our bookshop blogger.


Her pen name is taken from Alice Thomas Ellis’ Other Side of the Fire, which is unfortunately and scandalously out of print. One of the funniest bits in the book is the bodice-ripper that one of the characters is writing and the female - who slays the men with one toss of her raven locks and one glance from her fiery green eyes as she strides among the glens, faithful wolfhound by her side - is Amaryllis! And the name just seemed to suit so here we are.

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