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Mar 2013
After London / Amaryllis at the Fair - Richard Jeffries - Everyman, 1939
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Anyone who has known me for a while will have been on the receiving end of my complaints about the indiscriminate collecting tendencies of my parents, which meant that I grew up in a rich but messy, cluttered and inconvenient environment. Christies catalogues, old travel guides, art history magazines and tottering piles of prints from antiques shops vied for space with stuffed toys, dolls houses, art materials, china knick-knacks, incomplete crockery sets, random screws and plugs saved in case of an (implausible) outbreak of DIY, and books of every description, from bound copies of Punch to the complete Funk and Wagnall encyclopedia and year book collection (all 50-odd volumes) with which I shared my room. I became adept at the hip swivels and side-steps necessary to negotiate the obstacle course of bookshelves, cupboards, inconveniently placed tables and fancy but impractical chairs (which you sat on at your own risk) that filled every available space. It was really weird when I started visiting friends' houses and discovered that most people didn't live like this.

Needless to say, most of the collected items have more sentimental than artistic or monetary value, but every now and then something interesting can be found. This book is one such. Richard Jeffries had a short life - he died in 1887 at the age of 38 from tuberculosis - but he wrote some extraordinary books. After London is an early example of post-apocalyptic fiction, where an unspecified disaster has turned that city into a poisonous and festering swamp and created a huge lake in central southern England. Amaryllis at the Fair is another sort of rural apocalypse - a portrait of a family edging towards financial disaster. Both are worth reading, even though as novels they fail utterly.
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