In the early days of Slightly Foxed, in our very first issue in fact, I wrote about a book that had once come my way in the course of my work as a publisher’s editor – a book that had entranced me. Suzanne St Albans’ memoir Mango and Mimosa told the story of her eccentric upbringing in the 1920s and ’30s, when her family moved restlessly between the home her two lovable but ill-assorted parents had created out of the ruins of an old farmhouse near Vence, at the foot of the Alpes-Maritimes, and Assam Java, the plantation her father had inherited in Malaya, at Selangor.
I wrote this piece long before our Slightly Foxed Editions were even thought of, and as with a number of other memoirs we featured in our early issues, which have now slipped out of print, we’re delighted to be able to reissue this lovable book as the latest SFE. So, for those readers who haven’t already made its acquaintance, this is a brief introduction, and a reminder for those who have.
Reading it again has made me think about what makes a successful memoir. Primarily, I suppose, it is the writer’s ability to speak to the reader with an entirely individual voice, and that is certainly true of Suzanne St Albans (or Suzanne Fesq, as she was until she married the 13th Duke of St Albans in 1947 – an event too far in the future to feature here). From the opening page one has the sense of being with someone funny and spontaneous, with tremendous zest and an original take on life, and an acute and affectionate eye for the oddities of human – and animal – behaviour.
She also has a wonderful ability to evoke the feeling of those places where she spent her childhood – the dreamy atmosphere of the old Provençal farmhouse, which her parents christened Mas Mistral – ‘after the poet, not the wind’ – along the front of which ‘ran a balcony festooned with bignonia, wisteria and moonflowers climbing up from the terrace below, so that for six month
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