Back from my Sussex hols the highlights of which were undoubtedly two gorgeous gardens – Great Dixter and Charleston Farmhouse – both the kind that look as if they’ve been causally thrown together although anyone who knows anything about gardening, and I know very little, understands that this kind of planting is the product of great skill and effort. The guided tours at Charleston were over subscribed so we didn’t make it into the house but the kind woman in the ticket office sent us off to the garden with free tickets instead. I suspect H was relieved given his irritation with all things Bloomsbury Group apart from John Maynard Keynes about whom the others were apparently very sniffy. Another holiday delight was Lewes, a fascinating little town and home to the excellent Bill’s which has all day dining down to a tee – buzzy atmosphere, scrummy food and friendly efficient staff. You can do a little shopping from lists provided at your table which the staff picks out from Bill’s produce as you enjoy your meal. Even better, I find that they’ve recently opened a branch in Bath.
Holiday reading was a bit hit and miss. The biggest miss was Flight Behaviour which I gave up. I’m a huge fan of the early Barbara Kingsolvers – The Bean Trees, Pigs in Heaven, Animal Dreams – but this one felt overwritten and ponderous to me. I know I’m in a tiny minority but there it is. Hits were Aifric Campbell’s riveting On the Floor, the story of a female trader’s visceral meltdown made all the more gripping by the knowledge that Campbell herself was a trader for many years at Morgan Stanely, and Marjorie Celona’s Y which I’m still reading. It’s the story of a young girl abandoned at birth then shuttled between foster carers told in her own voice from the moment she was left on the steps of the local YMCA. As gripping as On the Floor in a very different way Y is a moving, gut wrenching first novel. Perfect holiday reading but not out in paperback until September, I’m afraid.
I‘ve been catching up with a bit of book news this morning and spotted The Best 100 Opening Lines From Books which was published last week. There are some corkers here, from the exploding grandmother of Iain Banks’s The Crow Road to the clocks striking thirteen at the beginning of 1984, but I couldn’t find any trace of my own favourite from Anthony Burgess’s Earthly Powers: “It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.” Beat that!