Amos Haggard lurches from one drunken misadventure to another in this rollicking send-up of Boswell, Pepys et al. The squire is desperate for his terminally stupid son Roderick to find a wealthy wife, but after a run-in with the fearsome Sir Josh Foulacre the pair are forced to flee the country. What follows is a less-than-glorious Grand Tour, full of belching contests, binge-drinking and people dying from ‘spasmodick rumblings’. Not one to read on the train.
Stand Before Your God by Paul Watkins (1993)
At the age of seven, Paul Watkins left America to become a boarder in Britain. He was utterly unprepared for what his schooldays had in store for him, and his account of an English education – first at the Dragon School in Oxford, and then Eton – grips from the very first line (‘I swear I thought I was going to a party’). His position as ‘our colonial friend’ made him a natural observer, and he writes like a latter-day F. Scott Fitzgerald. Read this, and you’ll understand why he was nominated for the Booker.
Friends and Relations by Elizabeth Bowen (1931)
The only one of Bowen’s novels currently out of print, and I can’t for the life of me work out why. This tragicomic tale of love among the drinks cabinets is, for me, easily the equal of The Death of the Heart. The star turn is schoolgirl Theodora, who has no patience with the grown-ups’ antics and spends the summer holidays making prank calls in her parents’ Gloucester Road flat.
The Unbearable Bassington by Saki (1912)
Comus Bassington is possessed of ‘all the charm and advantages that a boy could want to help him on in the world, and behind it all the fatal damning gift of utter hopelessness’. Over the course of 100-odd pages he repeatedly and hilariously derails his scheming mother’s attempts to marry him off. Oscar Wilde meets Evelyn Waugh, with cress sandwiches thrown in for good measure.
The Reluctant King by Sarah Bradford
The meticulously researched biography that inspired 2010’s smash hit film The King’s Speech is still, shockingly, out of print. It’s impossible not to warm to the timid yet resolute George VI, and the book’s take on the Abdication is fascinating. The pictures are terrific, too.
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