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An occasional preview of some forthcoming books of interest.

Charmed Life by Damian Collins

HarperCollins
Charmed Life by Damian Collins

A famed aesthete and patron, Philip Sassoon's world was one of luxury and classic English elegance with oriental flair. He gathered a social set that would provide inspiration for Brideshead Revisited. At his famous parties you might find Winston Churchill arguing over the tea cups with George Bernard Shaw, the Prince of Wales playing tennis with Charlie Chaplin, Noël Coward mingling with flamingos and Lawrence of Arabia and Rex Whistler painting murals as the party carried on around him.

But Philip Sassoon was not just a wealthy aesthete. He worked at the right hand of Douglas Haig during the First World War and then for Prime Minister Lloyd George for the settlement of the peace. He was close to King Edward VIII during the abdication crisis, and Minister for the Air Force in the 1930s. And neither was he wholly ‘English’. The heir of a family of wealthy Jewish traders from the souks of Baghdad, Philip craved acceptance from the English establishment, many of whom thought him both foreign and too exotic. He opened his house to his friends but rarely his heart, and as he was almost certainly homosexual.

In Charmed Life, Damian Collins explores an extraordinary product of an age; a man who, before dying prematurely aged only 50, in June 1939, Noël Coward called a ‘phenomenon that would never recur’.

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A House Full of Daughters by Juliet Nicolson

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
A House Full of Daughters by Juliet Nicolson

All families have their myths and legends. For many years Juliet Nicolson accepted hers--the dangerous beauty of her flamenco dancing great-great-grandmother Pepita, the flirty manipulation of her great-grandmother Victoria, the infamous eccentricity of her grandmother Vita Sackville-West, her mother’s Tory-conventional background. But then Juliet, a distinguished historian, started to question. As she did so, she sifted fact from fiction, uncovering details and secrets long held just out of sight.

A House Full of Daughters takes us through seven generations of women. In the nineteenth-century slums of Malaga, the salons of fin-de-siecle Washington D.C., an English boarding school during the Second World War, Chelsea in the 1960s, the knife-edge that was New York City in the 1980s, these women emerge for Juliet as people in their own right, but also as part of who she is and where she has come from.

A House Full of Daughters is one woman’s investigation into the nature of family, memory, and the past. As Juliet finds uncomfortable patterns reflected in these distant and more recent versions of herself, she realizes her challenge is to embrace the good and reject the hazards that have trapped past generations.

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The Course of Love by Alain de Botton

McClelland & Stewart
The Course of Love by Alain de Botton

In Edinburgh, a couple, Rabih and Kirsten, fall in love. They get married, they have children -- but no relationship is as simple as "happily ever after." The Course of Love is a novel that explores what happens after the birth of love, what it takes to maintain love, and what happens to our original ideals under the pressures of an average existence. With philosophical insight and psychological acumen, Alain de Botton shows that our Romantic dreams may do us a grave disservice -- and explores what the alternatives might be. The conclusion, as the characters gradually discover, is that love is not "an enthusiasm," but rather a "skill" that must be slowly and often painfully learnt.

This is a Romantic novel in the true sense, one interested in exploring how love can survive and thrive in the long term.

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Barkskins by Annie Proulx

Scribner
Barkskins by Annie Proulx

From Annie Proulx, the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-­winning author of The Shipping News and “Brokeback Mountain,” comes her masterwork: an epic, dazzling, violent, magnificently dramatic novel about the taking down of the world’s forests.

In the late seventeenth century two penniless young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord, a “seigneur,” for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters—barkskins. René suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a Mi’kmaw woman and their descendants live trapped between two inimical cultures. But Duquet, crafty and ruthless, runs away from the seigneur, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. Proulx tells the stories of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over three hundred years—their travels across North America, to Europe, China, and New Zealand, under stunningly brutal conditions—the revenge of rivals, accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, and cultural annihilation. Over and over again, they seize what they can of a presumed infinite resource, leaving the modern-day characters face to face with possible ecological collapse.

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