Isolating with new titles

Rebecca Wallersteiner recommends some exciting new titles to entertain you if you find yourself having to self-isolate with time on your hands, or taking your summer holidays at home.

Summer holidays are nearly upon us and an abundance of compelling, newly published books to choose from. From This Too Shall Pass: Stories of Change, Crisis and Hopeful Beginnings by psychotherapist Julia Samuel, an exploration of how change is an unavoidable part of life; to My Will a powerful memoir by Nicola Vivian, about the affect of addiction on a relationship; to Memories by Naim Attalah, publisher of unusual titles and Man on Edge BBC World News Presenter Humphrey Hawksley’s gripping new novel about a female trauma surgeon caught up in a world of international intrigue and spies.

Are you dreading returning to the unrelenting pressures of hospital work after self-isolating, or your holiday? In her new book ‘This Too Shall Pass: Stories of Change, Crisis and Hopeful Beginnings, psychotherapist Julia Samuel points out that since Charles Darwin developed his theory of natural selection, we have understood the necessity to adapt, or die. We have never lived in more uncertain times and it is impossible to predict what will happen in the future. Samuel tells the deeply moving stories of a selection of her anonymised clients and how she helps them develop insight to make necessary changes in their lives. One woman, cheated by a business partner is bankrupted. Another wonders whether to leave her empty marriage. With great sensitivity and compassion, Samuel expounds how change must be faced by all. This touching, beautiful book is full of insights into navigating challenging, transformative crossroads moments in our lives.

Nicola Vivian’s My Will is a powerful and unflinching account of her love affair with a heroin addicted boyfriend, and her alcoholic father. Born in Kenya, in the late 1950s, Vivian grew up on an idyllic farm, in an ex-pat world of ‘servants’, dazzling sunshine, parties, ‘burning dusk skies,’ ‘thorn trees,’ ‘veranda,’ and ‘elephants on their way to the water hole.’ Like many of the ‘White Mischief’ crowd, her beloved, ex-military father became addicted to ‘ever-flowing sundowners’ and her parents’ fragile marriage disintegrated. They returned to England where Vivian and her mother lived a nomadic life serially squatting with relatives. In her twenties Vivian fell in love with handsome, aristocratic Will, who also had an alcoholic father. Unknown to her, Will was hiding a dark secret – his drug habit. Adoring Will, and watching his physical and spiritual deterioration consumed her every thought, she became addicted to loving him. Following Will’s fatal heroin overdose, when she was just 24, Vivian sank into deep despair and dealt with it by examining honestly the reasons for addiction and her co-dependency. This stylishly written, honest memoir reveals the destruction addiction wreaks in the lives of addicts and their loved ones alike.

If you can’t travel abroad during your summer holidays this year, there are still small everyday pleasures to enjoy. Settle into a comfy chair, pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy Waugh on Wine, this entertaining collection of former Spectator wine critic Auberon Waugh’s writings on wine which sparkles with his legendary wit. On pink champagne, (a personal favourite of mine), he writes, “there is something Barbara Cartlandlish about returning to this great Edwardian favourite. Perhaps it cannot compare, in delicacy or subtlety, to the very best white champagne, but how many of us ever drink the very best?” Pink fizz is much more “festive” to look at. Waugh recommends “hosts that skimp on their wine should be exposed, ridiculed and humiliated” and “anyone with money to spend should spend it on laying down a cellar.” A little dated, it is a must for wine lovers.

In Man on Edge, his new fast-paced, stylishly written thriller, set in present-day Moscow, BBC World News presenter, Humphrey Hawksley ramps up the tension and intrigue to a tantalising level and maintains it throughout. An unlikely romance at its centre, it tells the story of attractive trauma surgeon Carrie Walker who travels to Russia to visit her mysterious uncle and becomes caught in a web of international spies and intrigue. As a doctor she “has seen it all, the unexpected, the violent, the hopeless,” but this is outside her experience. When Carrie’s uncle runs into trouble, not knowing whom to trust, she asks help from former fiancée, Major Rake Ozenna of the Alaska National Guard. Immediately Rake knows he must act fast to reach her before others do. A compelling and subtle thriller, with a page-turning plot, full of twists and turns but unsuitable for readers easily upset by violence.

In recent years wild swimming has enjoyed a revival. Pre-dating Roger Deakin’s ‘Waterlog,’ Charles Sprawson’s romantic, lyrical history of swimming, first published 25 years ago was the first of this genre. It has now been republished by Vintage Classics. An obsessional swimmer, who, like Lord Byron, swam the ‘black waters of the Hellespont,’ Sprawson believed that the swimmer is ‘introverted and eccentric’ for whom water is ‘an escape from the material world and into nature’

Original and sparkling, his book is packed with fascinating tales of reckless swimming exploits, such as Captain Matthew Webb, who first swam the English Channel in 1875, but drowned attempting to swim the Niagara whirlpool and Byron leaping into the surf at Shelley’s beach funeral. Written in the languid tone of a Victorian gentleman, with a gentle humour, that is aware of his quirkiness and obsession, revealed for example when he describes childhood dives amid the sunken Greek ruins of Cyrene, in Libya, where Cleopatra reputedly swam. A haunting, dark, sensual, slippery read that will make you long for seaweed on your skin and sand between your toes.

One of the most colourful personalities on London’s cultural scene, Naim Attalah has published a diverse roll call of notable literary names throughout the years, including Angela Carter, Brian Sewell and Leni Riefenstahl, to name a few. In Memories Attalah writes entertainingly about his sparkling contemporaries. These range from the violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin, politicians Tony Ben and Enoch Powell, to ballerina Margot Fonteyn, founder of Private Eye Richard Ingrams and writer Quentin Crew; to Michael Aspel and the former Chairman of Conde Nast Britain, Nicholas Coleridge. Attalah warmly relates how despite having muscular dystrophy and using a wheelchair the journalist Quentin Crewe never ceased to delight in beautiful women, travel, and partying the night away: he argued that disabled people are not very different to anyone else. Packed with quirky anecdotes, (often about sex), this very funny memoir should appeal to fans of Private Eye. I enjoyed reading it.

This Too Shall Pass: Stories of Change, Crisis and Hopeful Beginnings by Julia Samuel, published by Penguin Life, May 2020 £14.99

Man on Edge by Humphrey Hawksley, published as a hardback by Severn House Publishing Ltd. January 2020, priced at £20.99

My Will by Nicola Vivian, published in hardback by Zuleika, 2020, Priced at £22.99

Waugh on Wine, by Auberon Waugh, with illustrations by William Rushton, (first published in 1987), re-published in paperback by Quartet Books, priced at £10

Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero by Charles Sprawson, with a new introduction by Amy Liptrot, published as a paperback by Vintage Classics, priced at £9.99p

Memories: The charms and follies of a lifetime’s publishing by Naim Attalah, published by Quartet Books, June 2020

Rebecca Wallersteiner
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