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Diana Petre | The Secret Orchard of Roger Ackerley | Slightly Foxed Edition No. 33 | Seasonal Reading

The Secret Orchard of Roger Ackerley | Diana Petre

‘“It was Uncle who was your father,” she said.

1 January 1930. We were in Vienna, just the two of us. We had arrived at midnight the night before, or rather, today. This was the eighteenth New Year’s Day of my life. I was still seventeen and I was still rather desperately awaiting the start of a year in which my world as I knew it should be utterly changed . . .

This was exactly the sort of New Year’s Day I had been craving ever since I could remember: an unimaginable shakeup. Now, at last, it had come.’

Diana Petre and her twin sisters grew up in Barnes, South London, in the care of an elderly housekeeper, having been abandoned in 1912 by their mother, the enigmatic Mrs Muriel Perry, whose real name and true identity were a mystery. After an absence of ten years, Muriel reappeared and took charge of her children, with disastrous results.

For the girls, one of the highlights of their isolated lives were visits from a kindly man they knew as ‘Uncle Bodger’. In fact, as Muriel finally revealed in characteristically brutal fashion, he was their father, Roger Ackerley. Unbeknownst to the girls, he lived down the road in Richmond with a retired actress and his three further children. One of them, Joe, born in 1896, has also given his account of this strange upbringing in his famous memoir My Father and Myself, published in 1968.

Diana tells the story from another perspective. One of the things that makes this memoir so gripping is that it is constructed like a detective story, in which Diana desperately attempts to unravel the truth. The Secret Orchard of Roger Ackerley is an utterly unselfpitying and often very funny account of what must be one of the oddest childhoods on record. You’ll find links to our Slightly Foxed Edition below, as a single title and combined with other tempting and tantalizing tales.

With best wishes, as ever, from the SF office staff
Anna, Hattie & Jess

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