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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Hair today, gone tomorrow

Vanity belongs in a pre-Covid world – there’s no place for it alongside the Coronavirus

You know what I miss most about my pre-Coronavirus life? No, it’s not going on holiday, or eating out in restaurants (though, of course, I long to do that too). 


What I miss the most is visiting my hairdresser.

In the days before Covid struck, I would visit my neighbourhood salon at least once a week. Sometimes it was to get a trim, at other times a root touch-up, at others it was to put in a few highlights, or even sneak in a quick manicure or pedicure. Most often, though, I headed there to get a shampoo and blowout – my one indulgence, as I frequently told myself, as I tried to justify how much I was spending – leaving with an extra bounce to both my hair and my step.

Nothing feels quite as luxurious as having somebody else wash and condition your hair, and have a professional blow dry it, leaving you with a sleek style that no amount of mussing and fussing can spoil. And over the years, I must confess I got addicted to this luxury.

And then came the lockdown. Now, not only did I have to wash and blowdry my own hair, I also had to colour it every month and trim my fringe every few weeks. After six months of this, you would think that I have become a dab hand at this sort of thing. 

And you would be entirely wrong.

My hair is now an overgrown mess, because I am too scared to even venture out for a trim. Having experimented with various shades of dye over the months, my head currently sports at least three different shades of brown (and that’s not counting the auburn highlights that still linger on a few strands). And my fringe is now growing out messily, after I decided to give up on that particular battle, and let nature take its course.

Does this bother me every time I catch sight of myself in the mirror?

Well, truth be told, it bothers me less and less with every passing week. And that may well be because I have finally come to terms with my new reality.

And that new reality is that vanity is so last year. Or, shall we say, so pre-pandemic.

Now, as we try to negotiate a world in which we have to co-exist with a virus that could easily kill us, it seems silly, even downright frivolous, to worry about how we look. And in any case, how do appearances even matter in a world in which everyone has to wear masks when they venture out into the world?

Yes, I know there are those pesky zoom calls that are the plague of our existence. And you do have to comb your hair and slap on some make-up for them so that people don’t realize how feral you have become. (Though if you frame yourself just right, you still don’t need to wear trousers for these video encounters.)

But for the rest of the time, you can slob around in the house. You can stay in your pyjamas all day if you like, or just wear a tatty T-shirt with shorts. You don’t need to bother with lipstick (though a dash of eyeliner may be a good idea if you are venturing out in a mask and want to look pulled-together). You don’t even need to brush out your hair; just pull it into a ponytail or a messy bun.

In one sense, it’s a relief to not to obsess about how you look, or even worry about what other people make of your appearance.

And yet, whenever I think of what I would do if the virus vanished tomorrow – maybe thanks to that ‘miracle’ that Donald Trump keeps promising us – the first thing I can think of is a visit to my hair salon. I dream of settling down on a squishy armchair, trashy glossy magazine in my lap, as my hair is cut, coloured, coddled and polished to a high gloss.

So, I guess there is some vanity left in me, after all. It’s just lying in wait for when normal services can be resumed. Let’s hope that’s soon.


Thursday, September 10, 2020

Up the garden path

Falling in love in the times of Corona

Dear readers, I have a confession to make. I have been unfaithful. Over the last few weeks, I have been cheating on my long-time love on a regular basis. And what’s worse is that I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it.

Well, partly, at least it is the fault of my long-time love, or as you may know it, Lodi Garden. Once the lockdown was relaxed in Delhi and it was possible to go for a walk in its sylvan surroundings, I excitedly donned my sneakers and mask and headed out for my evening constitutional.

Suffice to say that it didn’t go well. Even though I went in the late afternoon, when the park is usually relatively empty, this time around it was teeming with people. I may have made my peace with that if it hadn’t been for the fact that about 50 per cent of these people were not wearing masks (or had them dangling from their ears or draped around their necks). So, I spent all my time gesturing to them to put their masks on properly, or asking them to do so in my most polite tones. Of course, nobody paid the least attention.

So, after a traumatic 45 minutes of this, I finally gave up the good fight and headed back home, convinced that I had contracted Covid because of my love for Lodi Garden.

Two weeks on, it was clear that I hadn’t been infected with anything other than a seering distaste for repeating that experience. That’s when I turned my lusty gaze to another beauty that had been hovering on my horizon for a while. I speak, of course, of Sunder Nursery.

Sprawling across 90 acres and boasting of manicured lawns, wild woodland areas, sparkling water bodies, effervescent fountains, and historic monuments, this green wonderland had been sending out its siren call to me with every picture I saw on Instagram. So, I finally gave in to temptation and headed there one evening.

Would you consider me a promiscuous so-and-so if I say that it was love at first sight? Would you judge me if I said that the wonder that is Sunder Nursery drove the amazing beauty of Lodi Garden right out of my mind? Would you call me a faithless lover because I switched allegiance in the course of one evening?

Well, never mind, I will take the name calling in my stride. And that’s because the stunning splendor of my new love more than makes it worth my while. 

For one thing, there’s the fact that the gardens are blissfully empty compared to crowded pathways of Lodi Garden (the entrance fee may have something to do with it). There are vast, empty stretches where you don’t see another human being for ages. So, it’s perfectly safe to remove your mask for a few minutes to breathe in the air redolent with the smell of freshly cut grass or the scent of petrichor. I can’t begin to describe what a luxury it is in these times of Corona to have the breeze waft gently against your naked face and have the sun kiss your entire visage.

Just like Lodi Garden, here too the landscape is littered with historical monuments that have been painstakingly restored. So, when the heat becomes too much, you can take refuge in the cool interiors of these centuries old structures, and bathe in the aura of antiquity they exude.

And then, there are the birds. There is, in fact, an entire habitat that has been given over to peacocks, where you can sit around and watch them frolic. If you are patient, you may be lucky enough to see a peacock unfurl his feathers and honour you with a private dance performance.

It’s not just peacocks and peahens, either. The grounds are littered with birds with brightly coloured plumage (one day I will find out what they are all called). And if you stay late into the evening, you don’t even need to plug in your earphones and listen to music. You can, instead, revel in the sound of birdsong.

So, are you surprised that I am in love? Yes, I guessed not.

Break Time

Taking a vacation amidst the Coronovirus pandemic? Here’s where you can go…

I don’t know about you but I must confess to being consumed with envy when I look at the Instagram posts of those of my friends who live abroad. Here’s one who is holidaying in Florence with his wife and adult children, traipsing through near-empty museums, and feasting on the most amazing Italian food. Okay, so they have to wear masks while out in public, but frankly that’s a small price to pay for being able to finally get out of home and explore the world beyond your own four walls.

There’s another group of friends, who live in London but are currently coasting along the Amalfi coast, enjoying the azure skies and the indigo waters. And then, there’s my friend who is a chef and runs restaurants in both India and abroad, who is wandering the length and breadth of the Ligurian coastline, trying out the local cuisine as she seeks inspiration for her new menus. (Yes, I see it too: it seems Italy is the destination of choice these days, even though it was one of the countries to be hit hardest by Coronavirus pandemic.)

I have no shame in admitting to travel envy. In fact, after five months (and counting) spent in my home, it seems an entirely reasonable reaction to me. But given that jetting off to my favourite Italian holiday spots (Venice is top of the list, though these days – after bingeing on the Godfather trilogy – I am dreaming of exploring Sicily as well) is out of the question, with the quarantine rules in both countries being what they are, I am setting my sights nearer home.

And when I say ‘nearer home’ I mean that quite literally. There is no way that I would risk getting on a plane right now, so any holiday destinations I consider have to be within driving distance. And I am guessing that that is the preferred choice of most other people as well. Some of my Mumbai friends, for instance, are heading off to their holiday homes in Alibaug, Khandala and Mahabaleshwar, to escape the incessant rain and flooding in the Maximum City, while the more adventurous are even planning to drive all the way down to Goa. All that verdant post-monsoon scenery will probably act as a balm on their bruised and battered souls.

Those of us who live in Delhi have a slightly more diverse group of destinations to choose from. If you want a resort just a short hop, skip and jump away from the city, you could drive to Manesar or Neemrana, to enjoy some stunning architecture, acres of manicured gardens, and perhaps a round or two of golf (that’s one sport where social distancing is no problem at all). Sadly, going to Agra – even though it’s just a little further afield – is more complicated for now because of the quarantine rules imposed by the Uttar Pradesh government.

But if you are willing to drive for another couple of hours, then Rajasthan is just the place for you. The obvious stops are, of course, Jaipur and Udaipur, with their beautiful palace hotels and other heritage properties, but there are plenty of smaller, scenic cities to visit as well. Yes, it will be hot and muggy, and you won’t really be able to hit the shopping districts without a mask in place. But if you choose your hotel well, you can enjoy a break away from home, swim laps in the pool, sip on a cocktail, and enjoy the sinful pleasures of room service.

If the thought of the sweltering heat in Rajasthan is putting you off, well then, the hills are the right place for you. The good news is that if you have a Covid negative test (which you have to upload on the government site before you head out) then you don’t have to quarantine in such states as Uttarakhand. So, you can drive down to any hill resort you choose, and enjoy the misty mountain air, go for bracing walks (or treks, if that is your thing) and enjoy some Pahari food chased down by a nice glass of wine of a peg of smoky whiskey.

But if you do decide to head out for a holiday in the midst of this pandemic, then do keep a few rules in place for a safe vacation.

First off, if at all possible choose smaller properties that have fewer guests in house. That will ensure that your interaction with strangers is kept to a minimum. Before booking into a hotel or an Airbnb, get all the information that you can about their disinfection and cleaning policies. If you have the slightest doubt on that score, then look elsewhere. Make sure that the hotels you book into have adopted contactless service so that you don’t have face time with staff as far as possible.

And most importantly, just because you are on holiday, don’t skip on the usual precautions to keep safe in the times of Corona. Keep your mask on in public areas, keep washing your hands, and observe social distancing. Remember, this is a vacation from real life, not a departure from it. You may be on holiday, but the virus is still out, working hard at trying to infect you.  

So while you can slip your mask off when you’re relaxing by the poolside, always remember to keep your guard up.

Deja vu

I’ve always been a fan of comfort reading; but the lockdown has made me comfort-watch old TV shows as well

Regular readers of this column will know that I tend to bang on a bit about comfort reading. Well, in my defence, it is one of my favourite things to do in times of stress (and even otherwise), and it has kept me sane through many insane moments in my life. So, it wasn’t entirely surprising that the moment we were forced into lockdown by the coronavirus, I fell back on my usual crutch.

So, I spent weeks, and then months, re-discovering some of my favourite books. I read the Donna Leon mysteries set in scenic Venice to get the travel fix I could not get otherwise. I enjoyed the halcyon English countryside that forms the backdrop of so many Elizabeth George suspense novels. I transported myself back in time and space as I waded through all my old Georgette Heyers and Agatha Christies.

And it was only when I had exhausted all the possibilities available on my bookshelves that it occurred to me that I could do exactly the same thing with my TV viewing – and by TV, I obviously mean the various streaming services we are so slavishly devoted to these days. Instead of constantly looking out for something new and interesting to watch, I could hunt down old favourites and binge-watch them instead. And maybe comfort watching would turn out to be just as soothing as comfort reading.

Well guess what? It was exactly that – and more. Even though I had forgotten some of the plot twists and characters involved, just the act of dipping back into a familiar show evoked not just a sense of nostalgia, but also well-being.

The first series that I chose to re-watch was The West Wing. It had been one of my favourite shows when it was first aired on Indian television. And then, a few years later, I had bought the entire box set to introduce it to my husband, who loved it as well. So, it made perfect sense to delve right back into the idealized world of President Bartlett and his merry men and women when we were looking for a series that would take us through the weeks of lockdown (that was before we realized it would be months, not weeks).

And I must say, it worked a treat. Every evening we would enter into the world of American politics, leaving our own cares behind, and watch as Leo clashed with Toby, the sexual tension between Josh and Donna grew so thick as to obscure other plot points, and President Bartlett tried to save the world, one global crisis at a time. What came as a revelation was that so little had changed since we first watched the series. There are still border tensions between India and Pakistan, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is still raging, and the issue of abortion is still a lightning rod in the United States.

Once we had ploughed our way through the entire seven seasons of The West Wing, it was time to move on to another favourite genre of ours: the legal drama. We had been early fans of LA Law (does anyone else even remember that?) and I had been a dedicated viewer of Ally McBeal. But while the first was not available on any streaming service, the latter – when I watched a couple of episodes – seemed curiously dated.

So, we fell back on another show we had enjoyed in the past: Boston Legal. Starring William Shatner, James Spader and Candice Bergen, this is not your standard legal drama. The plot lines – not to mention some characters – get increasingly bizarre with every episode, and political correctness just does not exist in this universe.

In fact, I would go so far to say that this series is very much a product of its time, with women being objectified at every turn, and sexual harassment being treated as normal workplace practice. Nobody would dare make such a show in these post-Me Too times, and some of it certainly makes for uncomfortable viewing. But if you can get past that (though it did get me hot and bothered at times) it is a barrel of laughs.

As we embark upon our fifth month of lockdown, we have started on our next comfort watch. Well, comfort watch for me, that is, given that my husband has never watched a single episode of the Sopranos. Until now he had been leery to take on the commitment of watching six seasons of a show but now that long, empty evenings stretch ahead of us every day, he agreed to take the plunge, saying that we would watch an episode or two, dipping in and out of the show over the next few weeks.

It took just 20 minutes of the first episode to get him hooked on this tale of the depressed mobster, played to devastating perfection by James Gandolfini, who starts going to the psychiatrist to deal with his panic attacks and depression. And now, like two addicts, we spend all day waiting for the TV to come on (never before 8 pm, is my iron-clad rule) so that we can disappear into the world of the New Jersey mob and all the shenanigans it gets up to.

We are down two seasons, with four more to go, and I am already starting to think about my next comfort watch. If you have any suggestions, do let me know.
  

Home Truths

When you can’t venture out, you have to make your home your whole world

When your house becomes your entire world – because the world outside is off limits for you – how do you cope?

That’s the question that I have had to grapple with over the past few months as Covid-19 ensured that we hunkered down at home, for fear of contracting the infection. And even now, though the lockdown has been relaxed, I continue to cower in my flat. It’s not just that I am a coward who fears infection (though that is part of it); it’s also that I have several comorbidities that put me at particular danger of a bad outcome were I to get the disease.

So, as long as Coronavirus is out there, I am going to stay safely inside.

Which is why my world has contracted to my home. Or, to put a more positive spin on it, my home has expanded to become my entire world. Either way, I have to live my entire life within the confines of my apartment. And though it did feel a little claustrophobic at first, I have gradually found a way to make the space work for me and my quarantine partner (aka the husband).

The first thing I did was to make dedicated workspaces for both of us. After a little territorial jostling, we finally settled on a formula that worked. He has taken over the dining table to do his writing (in longhand) while I have annexed the sofa in the den to work on my laptop. One armchair in the living room, which gets the best light, has been designated as the spot from where he does his Zoom calls, webinars, and TV commentating. I make my video calls from the study, mostly because the wifi is strongest here. And over time we have learnt to treat these as sacrosanct spaces, where neither of us intrudes on the other.

The other area that I have spent reorganizing is the kitchen, where I now spend more time than I did before. The first thing I embarked on was a massive clear out, throwing out old expired bottles of sauces, spices past their sell-by date, and ingredients that I had no use for. Then, it was time to organize my drawers, putting stock cubes in one, curry pastes in another and so on. I ordered kitchen racks and spice jars online, cut out little paper labels and organized all my herbs and spices. I can’t begin to tell what a difference that made when I was cooking to have everything I needed within range and neatly labeled.

The lockdown also made me discover the virtues of an oven. For years, I had just treated it as a way of reheating food. But as the challenge of providing three meals a day took its toll on me, I needed to expand my repertoire from stir-fries and curries and do something more ambitious (by my standards, of course). So, back I went online to order some roasting pans and dishes in which I could make one-pot meals. And ever since they arrived, I have been making at least one meal in the oven every day. (It helps that you can just assemble everything, bung it in for an hour, and relax with a book or a nice glass of wine while dinner gets ready.)

But while I experiment with all kinds of cuisines – Italian, Thai, Vietnamese, French, Chinese – I am never happier than when I am making the kind of comfort food that I grew up eating. So, rajma, kadi, alo wadi makes a regular appearance on my table. And out of respect for my husband’s Gujarati roots, I have also learnt to make dhokla and handvo, the tastes of his childhood.

The other area of the house that I am re-developing is my balcony. It always remained bare and empty because houseplants didn’t seem a good idea given how much we travelled. But now that I am stuck indoors, and the balcony is the only outdoors I have access to (so to speak), I am slowly greening it, so that I have something pretty to look at.

It started off with a few jasmine plants, which are already budding with the promise of fragrant flowers. When I was sure that they were flourishing I got a little more ambitious and bought some frangipani plants. My cousin, who has both a sprawling garden and a green thumb, sent me some basil and mint along with some flowering plants and creepers. And slowly but surely, my bare balcony is transforming into a green bower. It’s not quite Lodi Garden (ha!) but for now, it’s enough to keep me sane.

Talking of Lodi Garden, I still haven’t had the courage to head there for my usual evening walk. Instead, I have created a walking track within my house, which I use for an hour everyday. I start off from the bedroom, walk down the long corridor past the dining area to the den at the other end of the house, take a detour into the living room, then back to the long corridor which leads to the bedroom. Sometimes, just for a little variation, I take in a few turns of the front and back balcony as well. It is a bit tedious but it ensures that I keep to my 10,000-step count for the day and get enough active minutes.

And for the moment, at least, that’s quite enough.

Memories of holidays past...

That’s all we have to sustain us as we stay closeted at home this summer

This is usually the time I would be heading out to holiday with my husband, escaping the worst of the Delhi summer. But like all of you reading this column, we are currently homebound, with no prospects of venturing out further than the neighbourhood market for the foreseeable future.

Even if international flights were to resume this month or next, I can’t see myself donning full PPE gear to vacation at some scenic destination. Not that the rest of the world is holding out a welcome banner for us Indians – given that we currently rank third in the list of nations with most infections, we are, for all practical purposes, international pariahs. And the few countries that would take us in would insist on a 14-day quarantine, which is about the length of the average vacation.

Of course, there is always the possibility of vacationing somewhere within driving distance of our city. Agra and Jaipur come to mind but, honestly, who would want to drive a few hours to another equally hot destination, and become prisoners of their hotel rooms rather than their homes? You could drive to the hills but most states are asking for a fortnight’s home quarantine, which doesn’t exactly make for a memorable vacation.

So, it’s time to face up to some tough, incontrovertible facts. We aren’t going anywhere this summer. We have to stay home and make the best of it. And my way of doing that is to dwell in the memories of holidays past, so that I can satisfy my wanderlust in my mind, if nowhere else.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the holiday memories that have sustained me as I continue to isolate within my home.

Japan: This was the most magical vacation ever. The night we arrived in Tokyo was the day that the sakura – as the cherry blossom is known as in Japan – flowered. The next day, along with what seemed like the rest of the city, we headed for the central park to feast our eyes on this magnificent sight. The Japanese have a name for this activity; they call it hanami. And as we mingled with the locals amidst the blooming cherry blossom trees – which took in every shade from white to a deep pink – we truly felt part of the inner life of the city. In those transcendent moments, it was easy to forget that we were just tourists and come to believe that the city, and its beauty, belonged to us as well.

Spain: I know that everyone raves about the energy of Barcelona and that the stately beauty of Madrid has its fans as well. But while I love both these cities too, when I sit back and dream of Spain, it is Seville that comes into view. The shimmering gardens of the Alcazar and its magnificent buildings – familiar to Game of Thrones viewers as the Palace of Dorne – had an almost unreal beauty to them as we wandered through in a veritable daze. And it was from Seville that we drove a couple of hours to visit the legendary Alhambra, the castle built by the Moors, in Granada. We were so blown away by its magnificence that we ended up visiting it twice!

Italy: Rome has its antiquities and Milan is justly celebrated as the centre of Italian fashion and style. But is there a more stunning city in the entire world than Venice? I think not. I first visited it more than a decade ago, arriving in the dead of winter when there were no hordes of tourists cluttering up the streets and piazzas. And as I wandered the near-empty alleys gazing on the jewel-like buildings, wandered wide-eyed through the museums and explored the tiny canals that wound their way through sleepy neighbourhoods, I fell in love with this city. I have been back several times since, each time discovering a new facet of Venice which makes me adore it anew.

England: Every summer, London turns into India central, with everyone from Delhi to Mumbai to Ahmedabad and Nasik making their way to this city. For most affluent Indians, summer holidays mean London, even if they are just using as a take-off point to head elsewhere in Europe. Which is why I much prefer London later in the year when the temperatures drop a little and the tourist throngs thin out. That’s when I can make the most of its splendid parks, its superb museums, and its buzzy restaurant scene. Though I must confess that of late when I think of England, it’s not London that comes to mind first. It’s the English countryside in general, and Oxfordshire in particular, where I spent a blissful birthday in the sylvan surrounds of Soho Farmhouse.

Maldives: This one is an eternal favourite, and I have visited it almost every year for the past decade or so. And what I have discovered is that it doesn’t matter where you go in the Maldives, or which hotel you stay at. What makes this destination memorable is the amazing water that encompasses every shade of blue, the pristine white sand beaches, and the blazing sunshine that makes every corner of your resort brighter and more beautiful. There are no distractions as you would have in a city, so you have no choice but to relax, enjoy the view, and order up another cocktail. Bliss!

Page-turners

There’s nothing quite like a good book to get you through these trying times; so here are some recommendations

As the days go by and I remain confined at home for the most part, I seek solace in other worlds. Sometimes it is through travel and food shows that take me to destinations I can’t visit. At others, it is by scrolling through the Instagram feeds of friends who share my passion for travel, and revisiting their old posts. But more often than not, I venture into different worlds by simply picking up a book and reading.

Okay, make that picking up my Kindle and reading. Over the past couple of months, when bookshops and physical books have not been available to us, I have taken to downloading the latest titles and reading them on my devices (I even have the Kindle app downloaded on my phone). And unlike book snobs who insist that they need the actual feel, touch, smell and whatever else of a book, the printed word on a screen serves me just fine.

As I have written earlier, I started off the lockdown by trying to read worthy books, which required oodles of concentration, so that I could make best use of the stretches of empty time that I now had to negotiate. That didn’t last long. As my anxiety about the pandemic grew, so did my inability to digest new and complicated information. So, I fell back on my comfort reads, the books that have sustained me for years now, seeking refuge in the words of my favourite authors.

Well, that phase – lovely though it was while it lasted – ended a few weeks back, once I realized that lockdown was going to be a way of life now. And slowly and cautiously, I dipped my toes into the waters of new releases, starting off with some light fiction, graduating to memoirs, and taking in biographies along the way.

So here, based on my own recent reading, is a list of books that I enjoyed reading – and that you may want to read as well.

Rodham: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld

What if Hillary Rodham had turned down Bill Clinton when he asked her to marry him? How would her life and career have developed if she hadn’t been weighed down by her husband’s serial infidelities? Would Bill Clinton still have become President of the United States if he didn’t have Hillary by his side? This book tries to answer these questions, retelling the story of Hillary from the time she met Bill in college. The first half of the book can get a bit tedious because it goes over events we know all too well. But the second half, in which Sittenfeld’s imagination takes flight, more than makes up for it.

The Art Of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump by Mary Jordan

Melania Trump, the First Lady of the United States of America, has often been described as the most famous unknown person in the world. Mary Jordan, in this painstakingly researched biography, tried to fill in the portrait of Melania with details from her childhood in Slovenia, her modeling days in Milan, her arrival in America as a little-known model, and how she finally made it to the White House, on the arm of her husband. Even if you’re no fan of the Trumps, this insightful book, written in a relaxed, easy style, should keep you entertained.

The Mirror And The Light by Hilary Mantel

Okay, it pains me to say this but say it I must. This last installment of Mantel’s trilogy – after Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies – is not a patch on the two earlier books. Unlike the two others, which were sparkling and effervescent, this one seems stodgy in parts and entirely too weighed under by extraneous details about the Tudor court. But don’t give up after a couple of chapters. If you persist, you will be rewarded by a book that not only brings Oliver Cromwell to life but takes him to his death as well.

Lady In Waiting: My Extraordinary Life In The Shadow of the Crown by Anne Glenconner

I picked up this book thinking it would be a light and easy read, written as it was by the lady in waiting to Princess Margaret, Anne Glenconner, whose husband, Colin Tennant was the man behind the development of the island of Mustique. But what I found was a searing tale of love and loss, written by a woman who has endured more adversity and bereavement in her world of privilege than you could possibly imagine. That she remains optimistic and upbeat despite all she has gone through, and that she has managed to write a book that sings and soars is a remarkable achievement.

The Mothers: Five Women. Five Secrets. One Missing Husband by Sarah J Naughton

If you are looking for a nice, light read, that delivers a few surprises along the line, then you can’t go wrong with this one. The Mothers refers to five women who meet in their antenatal group but remain good friends even three years later, catching up with each other’s lives during boozy evenings. Everything falls apart, however, when one of their husbands goes missing and the police are called in. The ladies band together as the investigation begins but cracks soon start showing up as the book builds up to a surprising reveal. If you liked Big Little Lies, you will love this (as will Reese Witherspoon, if she hasn’t already bought the film rights!)