Valerie Grove, the distinguished journalist, has reviewed Lesley Blanch’s new book, published by Quartet, in the August issue of the Literary Review.
She has devoted time and energy to read the book thoroughly and come up with a spell-binding deciphering of Lesley Blanch’s words, which she says: ‘you just have to recline metaphorically in your turban and beads among tasselled cushions under a fretted moucharabiyeh and be engulfed by the rich colours and textures, the elegance and drama of her writing. Like the heroines of her first book, The Wilder Shores of Love, which catapulted her to fame in 1954, and follows the four remarkable 19th century women who travelled eastward in pursuit of romance, Blanch herself was lured by the exotic. “I’m like the pine tree of Heine’s famous poem, forever dreaming on some desolate Northern shore of a distant palm tree in the Eastern Lands.”
‘Until her death in 2017 aged almost 103, she retained a powerful sense of her “darling self” and remained a brilliant raconteuse with the face of a baroque angel.’ Valerie adds: ‘I will never forget my one visit to her pink-dashed villa on a hillside above Menton, taking the train to Garavan, the last station before the Italian border – built for the convenience of Queen Victoria – and discovering Blanch behind a green jungle of jacaranda, fig, bamboo and cypresses. “It is always useful to be near a frontier in case you need to make a dash for it,” Blanch said… ‘When I enquired how many husbands she had, she threw her hands in the air and cried “You mustn’t ask. I am bad with figures,” while hinting at love affairs beyond number… She has so often dashed off reckless like her heroines to Afghanistan or Persia to meet someone and it was all divine she said, “but it’s not seemly to talk about it.” And she was so funny about her frail bones: “I’ve knocked abaht, as in the music hall song,” she told me. “I broke a vertebra just opening a sun umbrella.”’
Valerie ends her long masterly review saying: ‘Blanch was a romantic and sometimes a fabulist but she was also tough and firmly rooted in early reality. She admitted to marrying Robert Bicknell, her first husband, to get her hands on his Georgian house, the Paragon, by the Thames at Richmond. When, on “one evil night” in 1994, her French house with its treasured icons and Persian carpets burned down, she watched from her garden in her nightgown, cradling her cats – she recreated it from the ashes. That is a testament to the force of her powerful egoistic will.’
Blanch was truly remarkable, and this beautifully written collection of her work, wonderfully edited by her goddaughter, Georgia de Chamberet (incidentally one of Quartet’s most valued and much missed employees), is certain to be the most entertaining you are likely to read this season. Buy it, and ensure your summer holidays will be engrossed by it.