Three Times a Countess
Constable, £25, pp326
Raine Spencer is best remembered today as the stepmother of Diana, Princess of Wales, but, as Gaudoin reveals in her enthralling and revelatory biography, the countess also led a tempestuous existence. Gaudoin elegantly depicts the esoteric life of an aristocrat, nicknamed ‘“Acid Raine” by her unimpressed stepdaughter, whose stormy relationships with her husbands and family were only equalled by an extravagant attitude towards fun that saw her remark, while on the verge of matrimony, “what you give out, you get back like a boomerang”.
Quercus, £16.99, pp415
Carey’s new thriller, the sequel to last year’s excellent Widowland, has acquired unexpected resonance by being published shortly after the Queen’s death, but it remains exciting and provocative dystopian fiction. In an alternative postwar Britain living under a Nazi “protectorate”, Hitler has been assassinated by the book’s protagonist, Rose Ransom, and the country has plunged into paranoia and reprisals. As rumours swirl that the usurped Princess Elizabeth will return to Britain, Rose finds herself alongside an unlikely ally, none other than Queen Wallis Simpson.
Nina Simone’s Gum
Faber, £10.99, pp224 (paperback)
In 1999, the musician Warren Ellis retrieved a piece of Nina Simone’s chewing gum from her piano after she performed at a concert. More than two decades later, this simple act has inspired a wise and witty memoir – although Ellis eschews such a description – about how such an apparently mundane object is transformed into a near-holy relic, as it comes to affect the lives of those who come into contact with it. Ellis is a hugely talented musician, and this superb book reveals that he is an equally fine writer.
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