I don’t usually read books that I am sent to review in bed. But this one is the ideal bedtime book: slow-burning as diaries are, but richly absorbing, with the advantage that it doesn’t matter if one falls asleep after only ten minutes, as it can be picked up the next day.
Maud Russell was the daughter of a wealthy German Jewish stockbroker named Paul Nelke who came from Berlin to live in Britain in the 1880s. Born in London, Maud was brought up as an Englishwoman. She married Gilbert Russell, a banker sixteen years older than her, and they lived at a gem-like country house, Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire. Maud usually wrote her diary on a Sunday morning, sitting in bed with cream or a beauty mask on her face.
When the diaries begin in 1938, Maud is forty-seven and Rex Whistler is working on a set of murals for the hall at Mottisfont. She finds Rex maddeningly unreliable but brilliant, and marvels as the ideas ‘drip’ from the pencil that he clutches, strangely, between his second and third fingers.