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Amaryllis on the Seedy Side

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I went to Brighton on Thursday to see H who is in her last year at Sussex University. I lived in Brighton for about 3 years after I left university: A group of us headed down and spread ourselves between two houses in Kemptown. We worked to earn enough money to allow us to play at the weekend, Dancing in the Street was the soundtrack and spirit of that time; I was a waitress at The Mock Turtle in the mornings then looked after the owner’s son in the afternoons. It was a great few years, liberated at last from study and still free from financial and familial responsibilities. Brighton was the perfect place for our insouciant life-style: no need for public transport, great pubs, cheap cafes and vintage clothing and, of course, the sea front, best enjoyed in the Autumn and Winter months when all the tourists and foreign students had gone home.

I have been back many times since but this time I was struck by how seedy and shabby the town was. It is fine walking down through the old lanes with an inviting, artisan café every couple of shops and the plethora of vintage clothes and independent gift shops. But then we walked along the sea front to H’s house at the top end of Kemptown and it was so unattractive: Rusty railway lines, the arches covered with green plastic netting and a strong smell of dog! Walking back down through Kemptown was even worse as it was a journey I had used to make 2-3 times a day: the bookshop had gone and, although some of the pubs were familiar, they seemed so small and dark. I used to aspire to one of the houses in the squares running down to the front but now all I could see was peeling paint work and dilapidation. Of course, the general impression wasn’t helped by H recounting seeing 3 people smoking crack in a phone box in the area late afternoon the previous day…

So, another year, another Booker, another American winner. Why are American books even included? They have their own prize and it has just made ours unwieldy and oversubscribed. Does anyone care any more? I really enjoyed the George Saunders book and think he is a truly wonderful writer but I wanted Ali Smith to win for Autumn. I read it again for book group last week and then again because it is so enjoyable and contains so many ideas and emotions and hope and despair in a very small novel that so now! It has repeatedly been called the first Brexit novel in the press but thank god that horrid word does not appear in the book. Instead there is an exuberant celebration of language in all its trickery and wonderfulness!

I have just finished a very enjoyable historical novel by Minette Walters, The Last Hours. It is about the 14th century black death epidemic when people died in their thousands after a horrible suffering and boils as big as apples burst emitting black blood – marvellous stuff!

And, very excitingly, I have just started La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman. Suffice it to say that the only time I raised my head on the tube this morning it was to find myself at Notting Hill station and in danger of proceeding to Holland Park…

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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