To paraphrase Amy in Little Women, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without at least one new book. Dark evenings, roaring fires, twinkling trees, red wine and excessive consumption of foodstuffs – all point to a night in, curled up with a good (or beautiful book). I’d be more than happy to find any of these under my tree.Front-runners for the best-dressed books of the year must surely be Jessie Wallace’s decade-leaping, utterly enthralling The Muse (one painting, four heroines, one seductive tale of love, identity and deception) and The Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry’s storming Victorian gothic novel which has been roundly – and deservedly – lavished with praise. Newly, but not unhappily, widowed Cora (whip-smart, fascinated by natural history – shades of Alma in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Signature of All Things) decamps to Essex, drawn by rumours of a “living serpent” – and finds herself drawn towards the vicar, despite their mutual scepticism of the other’s beliefs. Wilkie Collins meets Dickens by way of Henry James. And just look at that cover…
If it’s mystery you’re after, then Anthony Horowitz’s clever homage to the cosy British crime novel, Magpie Murders. It’s a classic murder mystery wrapped around a darker, more unsettling ruthless ambition…worth killing for. Girl on the Train it is not. I have my fingers crossed it will find its way under my tree on Christmas day (together with the promise of quiet time to read it). Honestly, I’d be happy with a pile of books for Christmas. (I was saying this to someone the other day – who was relaying how odd it was that her sister had asked for books for Christmas. “Oh,” she nodded, “you’re one of those.” Just lead me to that pile of beautifully-wrapped books.
Pure escapism? Then place your order for Mount, featuring the return of Jilly Cooper’s rakish Rupert Campbell Black. Alternatively, you can almost feel your literary brain expanding when you read Zadie Smith – her latest, Swing Time is a wonder. She revisits her old stomping ground of NW London, sweeps across continents, but comes back to the beating heart of human relationships.
Even though I’ve worked in magazines for, um, 17 years (she says, ve-ry quietly) and you’d think I’d know what makes them tick, I’m still agog to read Inside Vogue, Alex Shulman’s candid diary of being at the helm of Vogue in its hundredth year. Another excellent stocking filler would be Sali Hughes Pretty Iconic. She writes about beauty, well, beautifully.
Coffee table need a zhuzh? Well, get thee some hygge. I like the look of Signes Johansen’s How to Hygge: The Secrets of Nordic Living. I was obsessed with Domino magazine (and love the relaunched digital issue) and their decorating wisdom is Instagrammable to the max. The latest, Domino: Your Guide to a Stylish Home will make your home look more stylish by its presence alone. For something more quintessentially British, tastemaker Ben Pentreath has convinced his v stylish friends to open the doors to their v stylish homes and English Houses is the result – and what an Anglophile treat it is.