- Published: 07/03/2019
- ISBN: 9781783783854
- 336 pages
Many years after the death of her grandmother, Lulah Ellender inherited a curious object – a book of handwritten lists.
On the face of it, Elisabeth’s lists seemed rather ordinary – shopping lists, items to be packed for a foreign trip, a tally of the eggs laid by her hens. But from these everyday fragments, Lulah began to weave together the extraordinary life of the grandmother she never knew – a life lived in the most rarefied and glamorous of circles, from Elisabeth’s early years as an ambassador’s daughter in 1930s China, to her marriage to a British diplomat and postings in Madrid under Franco’s regime, post-war Beirut, Rio de Janeiro and Paris. But it was also a life of stark contrasts – between the opulent excess of embassy banquets and the deprivations of wartime rationing in England, between the unfailing charm she displayed in public and the dark depressions that blanketed her in private, between her great appetite for life and her sudden, early death.
Throughout Elisabeth’s adult life, the lists were a source of structure and comfort. And now, as Lulah learns that she is losing her own mother, she finds herself turning to her grandmother’s life, and to her much-travelled book of lists, in search of meaning and solace.
Elisabeth’s Lists is both a vivid memoir and a moving study of the familial threads that binds us, even beyond death.
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[A] tender memoir... A moving, evocative read. Five stars
Eithne Farry, Sunday Express
Go to your "books to read" list and place Elisabeth's Lists right at the top. It is charming without ever being whimsical and a vital voice as Elisabeth asserts her right to be more than simply a diplomat's daughter or ambassador's wife. A valuable record from a woman we are only now getting to know
This is a hauntingly beautiful meditation on life and death
PD Smith, Guardian
From the Same Author
Lulah Ellender’s garden in Sussex is an unruly but beloved place. It is also not permanently her own. When just a few weeks after losing her mother, Lulah is told that she and her family might have to leave the rented house that they have made their home, her immediate response is to freeze, to neglect the plants she has spent years cultivating. But before long she finds herself back in the garden, tidying, planning, and planting – putting down roots even though she may not be there to see the shoots emerge.
Drawing on her intimate knowledge of this small plot of land in Sussex, as well as her visits to the celebrated gardens close by – Charleston and Sissinghurst, among others – Lulah explores the broader relationship between gardener and garden. From artistic figures such as Vita Sackville-West, Virginia Woolf and Frida Kahlo to the long-gone inhabitants of a ruined village nearby, Lulah considers the ways in which tending the soil, growing plants, and tuning into the unceasing rhythms of nature can help us live with uncertainty and bring a sense of coming home, of feeling grounded, and ultimately of finding one’s time-bound place here on Earth.
Lulah Ellender on Granta.com
Essays & Memoir | The Online Edition
Ways of Looking
‘He is like a mantling hawk, his heft and body spreading over his prey as he tears off pieces of her with his eyes.’ Lulah Ellender on the male gaze.