The chance to collect the earliest four available hand-numbered Slightly Foxed Editions, limited to 2,000 copies of each title.
My Grandfather & Father, Dear Father (No. 20)
These delightfully funny and affectionate portraits of the two most influential male figures in the author’s life conjure up two strongly defined characters and the times in which they lived. The two could hardly have been more different. Denis’s maternal grandfather, though surviving sturdily into the reign of George V, was to his grandson a character from the ‘warm, gas-lit, stable-smelling past’ of the Victorian age and symbolized everything that was convivial and straightforward and reliable. His father Stephanos Constanduros, however, was flamboyant, melodramatic and full of grand ideas for solving his perpetual financial problems at a stroke – a tendency which ultimately led to disaster.
The Real Mrs Miniver (No. 21)
The exemplary middle-class housewife Mrs Miniver, created by Jan Struther, was said by Winston Churchill to have done more for the Allied cause in the Second World War than a flotilla of battleships. Everyone assumed that Mrs Miniver was a portrait of Jan herself but, as this vivid biography reveals, the reality was very different. In the public’s eyes Joyce – or Jan Struther, as she called herself – and Mrs Miniver were one. In fact Joyce’s once happy marriage to golf-loving Tony had run out of steam and she had begun an affair with a penniless Viennese Jewish poet and refugee called Dolf Placzek. While she was touring the US, giving uplifting speeches to rapt crowds of Americans, she and Dolf were having passionate secret meetings.
Ysenda Maxtone Graham, Joyce’s granddaughter, draws a deeply understanding but unsentimental portrait of this contradictory woman, whose own creation ultimately forced her to lead a painful double life. It’s a poignant story, laced with sharp humour and unforgettably told.
Marrying Out (No. 27)
It is a Saturday afternoon in the 1950s, and Harold Carlton (lightly disguised as Howard Conway) is being given a characteristic welcome by his grandmother at the door of her mansion flat just off London’s Edgware Road. Like everything about Grandma – her food, her décor, her make-up, her fears, her joys, her sorrows – it’s excessive, overwhelming. She is the monstrous yet entirely believable figure who dominates this darkly comic story of a Jewish family’s rise and fall.
Grandma, the arch manipulator and expert in emotional blackmail, is determined to foil her youngest son’s plans to marry a shiksa – a non-Jewish girl – by shipping him off to join his brother in New York. When the two brothers return full of New World entrepreneurial spirit it all rebounds, of course, in an awful yet irresistibly hilarious way. Though light-heartedly written, Marrying Out is a brilliantly observed study of family dynamics, and of a certain kind of Jewish life in 1950s North London.
My Family & Other Animals (No. 28)
In 1935, the Durrell family sold their house and ‘like a flock of migrating swallows’ fled from the depressing grey damp of an English summer to the Mediterranean warmth and colour of Corfu, where they would spend the next five years.
Having arrived on the island they were quickly taken under the wing of the huge and quaintly English-speaking operator Spiro Hakiaopulos (‘Don’ts you worrys yourselfs about anythings, Mrs Durrells, leaves everythings to me’). Soon he had them settled in a strawberry-pink villa with a flower-filled garden which was, as Gerry immediately discovered, home to every imaginable kind of insect. For Gerry, this was where Paradise began. Durrell’s experiences on Corfu gave him an education of a different kind, which helped turn him into the great conservationist he became. My Family and Other Animals is his testament to that time, full of infectious wonder at the beauty and fragility of the natural world and the infinite variety of the humans who inhabit it. It’s a perfect family book for reading aloud, a funny, magical evocation of a boyish Paradise which has been a favourite with readers of all ages since it was first published nearly sixty years ago.
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