Am I the only person who while enjoying Desert Island Discs would actually be more interested listening to Desert Island Books? Not a programme limited to only taking six books of course, being allowed that few on an island surely counts as a cruel and unnatural maroonment and must be included somewhere in the small print of the Human Rights Act. I’d insist on a large bookcase at the very least, or being allowed to count The Collected Works of PG Wodehouse as one book, even I could make over 90 books last a while.
But would people be honest in their selections, or would it end up like those ‘Book Of The Year’ selections where you get the feeling that the celebs asked to name their three favourite authors are too embarrassed to name Lee Child, Marian Keyes and Dan Brown? It might sound very intellectual to say that you’ll take the whole of Proust but you wouldn’t know how long you’d be stuck on the island before you could flag down a handy passing steamer, and frankly do you want to have to read about Proust’s obsession with madelaines again and again and again? And maybe again and again if you’re unlucky and your island isn’t on one of the more populated shipping lanes.
The truth is that my desert island bookcase would be almost entirely populated with books that make me laugh and would probably not have many of the books that have enthralled me the most. I adored War and Peace when I read it at 15 in one week (when I should have been revising for my mocks which might explain my results), still think Natasha is one of the most engaging heroines ever and have absolutely no desire to go back to it. But I could read E F Delafield’s Diary Of A Provincial Lady again and again (and have).
I’d love to be able to write a detailed review of The Diary Of A Provincial Lady, with quotes and showing why this story of a middle class woman in the 1930’s juggling her cook, Mademoiselle who looks after the five year old daughter of the house, Robert her husband (typical man, some might say stereotypical and therefore very funny), Our Vicar’s Wife who never knows when to leave and Lady B, Robert’s employer who is as autocratic and tactless as Lady Catherine de Bourgh is so absolutely enchanting. But I can’t. Desi, the younger of our two Dalmatians, was keen on literature as a puppy and eagerly swallowed up several of my books includng The Provincial Lady.
So you’ll have to take my word for it that The Diary of a Provincial Lady is still as funny as it was when it first started appearing in serial form in Time and Tide which no doubt explains why it’s never been out of print. The are several further books about the Provincial Lady which don’t have quite the freshness of the original but are still delightful.