This week’s must-reads include Barbara Amiel’s “gob-smackingly honest” and “hilariously bitchy” memoir; a “hugely ambitious” and wide-ranging study of the Himalayas by writer and climber Ed Douglas; and an “uncanny” novel by Don DeLillo which imagines a mass electrical wipeout set in 2022.
Book of the week
Friends and Enemies by Barbara Amiel
Barbara Amiel, the wife of the disgraced former newspaper magnate Conrad Black, is “ruthless, cruel and thrillingly unself-aware”, said Anna van Praagh in the London Evening Standard. Yet having read her “gob-smackingly honest” memoir, I’ve got to admit I can’t help liking her. It centres, of course, on the couple’s spectacular fall from grace in the early 2000s, when Black, who then owned The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator, was revealed to have been “cooking the books”. From leading lives of extraordinary opulence, the pair became social pariahs – and Black ended up spending three years in prison. But this “sorry histoire” isn’t the sole focus of Amiel’s memoir. She also recounts her “terrible” childhood, first in north London and then in Canada, and describes her adult life before meeting Black (there was a successful career in journalism, and three prior husbands). Amiel, now nearly 80, has “led one helluva life”. And she describes it superbly in this “brilliant book”.
“What a divinely bonkers book this is,” said Camilla Long in The Sunday Times – “a crazed page-turner as written from the inside by Marie Antoinette”. It is “hilariously bitchy and bitter”. Not content with simply describing her many enemies, Amiel lists them all – by continent – at the back: “the many evil lawyers, industrialists, socialites and supposedly bent judges, who either dropped the couple or queued up to destroy them”. Although candid about her excesses, she seems bewildered at all the fuss. She admits spending tens of thousands on bedsheets, but trills: “I never asked the prices – I mean, how much can sheets be?” On and on she ploughs, through the dramas and the lovers – among them, the charismatic publisher Lord Weidenfeld, to whom she recalls giving “oral pleasure” as a m