Pamflet x Twin: Spring Reviews

05.06.2015 | Literature | BY:

When it comes to column inches and tabloid notoriety the Kardashians have got nothing on the Mitford sisters. These charismatic socialites dominated the headlines of the ’20s and ’30s with their exploits, and perhaps the most controversial and complex of the siblings was Diana, hailed, incredibly, as both the most beautiful and the most hated woman of her day. After a spectacular launch into society as the teenage debutante who bagged the dashing and fabulously wealthy Bryan Guinness, she scandalised her set by becoming the mistress of Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists. It’s a story that has been told countless times from every possible angle, including in Diana’s own memoir, The Pursuit of Laughter, but the story can stand another retelling because the woman at the heart of it remains an enigma, her actions impossible to fathom.

In Mrs Guinness: The Rise and Fall of Diana Mitford, the Thirties Socialite (The History Press, £17.99), Lyndsy Spence paints a compelling portrait of a woman with the capacity for passionate love and loyalty, but who was equally capable of closing her mind to the nastier implications of such deep devotion. Through unpublished letters and diaries she goes back through Diana’s childhood, teenage years and first marriage in an effort to understand how she became the woman she did. The composite portrait that she has pieced together may be as close as we will ever get to understanding the mystery that is Diana Mitford.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes – And Other Lessons from the Crematorium (Canongate, £12.99) is a highly unusual memoir by mortician Caitlin Doughty who’s passionate about demystifying death. She is a twentysomething woman with an impeccable fringe who has got funeral ash under her nails and doesn’t mind explaining how it got there. Smoke is her manifesto for how to live – and die – better, a memoir of her own coming-to-terms-with mortality and a deconstruction of the mostly quite appalling death industry. Caitlin, with her no-nonsense style and absolute single-mindedness plus a healthy dose of goth sensibility, bravely shows that death is nothing to be afraid of.

The Green Road (Jonathan Cape, £16.99) is a return to form for 2007 Booker winner Anne Enright who was named Ireland’s first fiction laureate in January. Set in pre-recession Ireland where there’s abundant optimism and bundles of euros, Enright is free to explore the idea of family without having to negotiate the country’s current economic doldrums.

Rosaleen Madigan wants to sell up her homestead and split the money between her grown-up children: two sons, two daughters. The road of the title leads the characters back home for Christmas to hear about their mother’s plans. It’s also a reference to how they have each escaped, whether to Toronto, or Timbuktu, or just up the road to Dublin. This is a familiar Irish narrative where siblings have fled the homeland for better lives and opportunities, but each of their homecomings will chime with readers. Familial disappointments, anxieties, failures, rivalries and questions around belonging are all delicately handled and Enright’s writing has an easy poetry, ‘Beauty, in glimpses and flashes, that is what the soul required. That was the drop of water on the tongue.’

Glossy book of the month: In Icons of Women’s Style (Laurence King, £19.95), Josh Sims introduces the essential pieces that make up the clothing canon. An essay accompanied by some fine fashion photography explains why each those perennial classics – including capri pants, A-line dresses, Breton tops – are always in style.

Anna-Marie Fitzgerald and Phoebe Frangoul are the co-editors and co-founders of the London grrrl-zine and literary salon Pamflet. Follow them on Twitter and Instagram @Pamflet. 

Images from Icons of Women’s Style

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