Philip Henscher: “The books I liked best this year were all richly detailed. Why read a book unless it’s going to go into all the nooks and crannies: Everyone is going to recommend Sofka Zinovieff’s The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me about the ménage at Faringdon House. And rightly so – it is the story that everyone wanted told, and she was the person to tell it.
Susan Hill: The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Mother and Me by Sofka Zinovieff (Cape, £25). If you love Lord Merlin you love Lord Berners, and if you don’t follow me you shouldn’t be reading this. I was once at a book signing in Burford with the late Debo Devonshire when a remarkable elderly lady came up. ‘Coote!’, DD cried, leaping up to embrace her. This was Lady Dorothy Lygon (known as ‘Coote’ to her friends) who late in life married Robert HP, the ‘Mad Boy’ of this book and longstanding young man in residence with Lord Merlin. (Oh do keep up.) Their marriage was, unsurprisingly, unhappy. When Coote left, clutching her signed book, Debo said, ‘She’ll be 90 in a minute.’ For all these and a multitude of other reasons, this book is a must-read. Well, for lovers of Lord Merlin, anyway.