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Into it: Nigella Lawson

Nigella Lawson, Food Network host, author, and columnist, what are you ...

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Just occasionally you come across a writer whose sentences are so perfect, you want to swill them around in your mouth as you read, just to savor their deliciousness. Elinor Lipman is just such a writer. I'm reading My Latest Grievance and, in fact, have almost finished it. And I say that slightly forlornly – when you read a book you love, you both want to gallop through it and yet never finish it. This is anyway a fairly trim book, and I hesitate to give away the plot as the sort of books I like never seem at their best when reduced to plot outlines. What she's about is voice and character. Nominally, the book is about the daughter of a couple who work as houseparents in a girls' college, their personal dramas and the interplay of people in a particular community – love affairs, miseries, and power struggles. Early novels in European literature often had a construct whereby there was a master and servant, and the novel showed that the servant always had the upper hand. In many respects this is a contemporary rewriting, only the servant role is played by the child, the narrator, who is the lynchpin and the central, knowing voice. In many ways, she educates the parents, and the various adults she comes into contact with her. And for a small book, it is bulging with characters: it is something of a comic epic despite its scale. Lipman has been described as a latterday Jane Austen – I'd go along with that.

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