Midway on the Waves by James Lees-Milne (Faber, £10.95).
Everything to Lose by Frances Partridge (Gollancz, £12.95).
JAMES Lees-Milne in 1948 is passing through a mid-life crisis.
Turning 40, feeling liverish, intolerant and underpaid, he continues his work for the National Trust, visiting and having what he describes as "a good pry around" prospective acquisitions.
These bits are particularly absorbing and informative for National Trusties, and his "outspoken" comments on the owners of the houses are as hilarious as ever.
But we do not have only the mixture as before, richly rewarding as that may be. This is essentially a love story. The name of Alvilde Chaplin occurs more and more frequently and their relationship flowers into deep affection, always described in the most fastidious and reticent way, and the book closes with all the suspense of a novel, their future together hoped for but still uncertain.
He implies in the foreword that this is the last of his diaries that we shall see. How annoying that his new publisher should have thought fit to produce it in new gawky format.
Frances Partridge's diaries, being from 1945-1960, concern more far-off unhappy things and battles long ago, principally those between the sexes. I was disappointed in how little there was of her botanical work and wonder if it has been cut out as not of sufficient general interest.
Gossip and scandal are of course what diaries are read for, both dreadful and delicious. Her diary is a riveting read, as any really acutely observed and well written book is. It concerns the survivors and descendants of the Bloomsbury group, as well as the current illuminati of the literary scene.
Although I am told it was much censored and I suppose is all public knowledge anyway, I experience a distinct sense of discomfort now at meeting Robert Kee's eye across my television screen. It was a charmingly thoughtful touch to index one much married person under her Christian name. Perhaps I should have said first name, because although Frances Partridge refers to life as a vale of tears, and exclaims "Good Heavens" and "Oh God" in moments of stress, the philosophy of her circle is devoid of any belief.
Rosamond Lehmann's conviction, for instance, of her daughter's continued existence after death is an acute embarrassment to them. This makes the last page, on which Ralph Partridge's expected and dreaded death occurs, unbearably sad, with the despairing cry: "Now I am absolutely alone and for ever".
Margaret Lucy MARSH A LL*PICKERING
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