What is home? Returning to my parents’ house for the weekend – taking welcome breaks from the tarmacked wastes of London – there are a few key ingredients that mean I’m really home:
1. Apple Juice in copious quantities
2. Sitting on the kitchen counter in the corner, feet up on the Aga
3 . The Sunday Times’ Style magazine and Sunday Telegraph’s Stella magazines that have been published since my last visit, neatly stacked in my old bedroom
These magazines have been a mainstay of my weekends for almost twenty years. Forget Vogue, Elle, Cosmo – the only women’s magazines I have ever consistently read are the sacred duo of Style and Stella – the former the cool girl at school, all blow-dries, hair-flicking, heels, cocktails and parties; the latter also cool but in a more intellectual, Phoebe Philo, Jil Sander way.
As I get older I incline towards the more mature bent of Stella, but as a teenager I was in total thrall to the breathless, acronym-fond, what’s-hot-what’s-not manner of Style. The cousin of a girl at school wrote a column, to great excitement, and the other writers – Camilla Long, A A Gill, India Knight – were bathed in the light of glitter and gold, gods of journalism. Although this fascination is a thing of the past (my interest today is for wildchild-turned-Mum Telegraph columnist Bryony Gordon), Style journalists still have a revered place in my heart, so when India Knight raved about Lissa Evans’s Crooked Heart on Twitter (and on the cover of the pictured version), I duly snapped it up. And right enough, this is a simple and charming book. It tells a second world war tale of a crippled boy, a charismatic but increasingly senile old lady, and a grumpy, cash-strapped woman who takes the boy in upon evacuation. It’s not particularly memorable, but it is particularly pleasant and readable. Noel, the solemn little boy, has a wonderful mix of naivety and smartness, Mattie is endearingly batty, and Vera has a sourness which makes her character interesting and stretches the novel beyond stereotype, of which it’s sometimes at risk. But this isn’t high literature, so you mainly enjoy the cheesiness – Vera’s son is pleasingly villainous and his paramour suitably grasping. All comes good in the end and the writing is quality enough to make the ride one you’re happy to be on.
So, India proves herself worthy of the trust which I place in Style columnists – Crooked Heart is a little treat and pleasure. Don’t get me wrong, there are more charming, amusing, comforting books out there – The Enchanted April excels in these qualities although Knight’s reference to The Pursuit of Love and I Capture the Castle are also winners – but it’s a nice little book. Read with a glass of Apple Juice and your feet on the Aga, feeling at home.