Behind the Mask: The Life of Vita Sackville-West by Matthew Dennison (Collins, £25). Brave man to take on the biography of Vita, and he has brought it off superbly. So many facets, so many talents, so rich and full a life. Where do you start? Aristocrat, writer, greatly underrated novelist, garden creator, poet, wife, mother, friend, lover — it’s all here; and this is no dull ‘birth to death’ chronicle. It studies and reveals this extraordinary woman as well as could possibly be. A fine achievement.
The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Mother and Me by Sofka Zinovieff (Cape, £25). If you love Lord Merlin you love Lord Berners, and if you don’t follow me you shouldn’t be reading this. I was once at a book signing in Burford with the late Debo Devonshire when a remarkable elderly lady came up. ‘Coote!’, DD cried, leaping up to embrace her. This was Lady Dorothy Lygon (known as ‘Coote’ to her friends) who late in life married Robert HP, the ‘Mad Boy’ of this book and longstanding young man in residence with Lord Merlin. (Oh do keep up.) Their marriage was, unsurprisingly, unhappy. When Coote left, clutching her signed book, Debo said, ‘She’ll be 90 in a minute.’ For all these and a multitude of other reasons, this book is a must-read. Well, for lovers of Lord Merlin, anyway.
Awful Auntie by David Walliams (HarperCollins, £12.99). No one has any business being as talented as David Walliams. He is one of the few comic actors who is actually funny, and is now the genius writer of ridiculously over-the-top and utterly delightful children’s books like this one, to be enjoyed equally by grown-ups who have never really grown-up. He is the heir to Roald Dahl — and that’s saying a lot.