Thursday, December 11, 2008

SISSINGHURST – An Unfinished History
Adam Nicolson – Harper Press - $59.99

Declaration of interest – I am somewhat obsessed by Sissinghurst, the property, and Vita Sackville-West, grandmother of the author of this new book and founder of the gardens for which the place is now so famous.

Years ago, May 1983 I seem to recall, UK-based NZ-born and educated publisher Kate Griffin, (Profile Books), then with Virago, introduced me to the Bloomsbury Group, and in particular Sissinghurst, Knole, (which we visited), and Vita Sackville-West, and ever since I have been fascinated by the whole subject having read almost every book published, and there have been lots of them!

Since that first visit with Kate I have been back to Sissinghurst at least six times, have seen the gardens in all seasons, and once went there with Penguin Books for the launch of a book by Nigel Nicolson, father of the author of this present book.

Having said all this you will not ne surprised then that I found SISSINGHURST – An Unfinished History absolutely riveting for this is the inside story from a man who lives there, and has done so, on and off, for the past forty five years,

As he says on the first page , “For my entire conscious life it has been what I have thought of as home……..It is the land I have walked over, looked out over, driven through, smoked my first cigarette in, planted my first tree in, bicycled over, slept in and lived in all my life……..”
It was his father Nigel who gave the property to the National Trust having started negotiations 10 days after Vita died in June 1962".

Here is the detail Adam Nicolson provides:

By January 1963, my father had refined his proposal: house and garden to the NT, plus some surrounding farmland, most of the rest sold off to rasie cash with whiuch to endow the property with 15,000 pds and a couple of fields kept for himself. He and “any descendants of mine” would have the right to live there for free. He would act as the Trust’s unpaid manager and have the right to be consulted over any decision affecting Sissinghurst, Any income at Sssinghurst would remain at Sissinghurst. Its coffers would never be drained for general NT purposes – this profoundly valuable clause made at the suggestion of the National Trust itself”.

It was a protracted business that went on for several years but Nigel Nicolson “loved Sissinghurst more than anything else in the world” and it wasn’t until April 1967 that he felt
“ that Sissinghurst will thus be preserved forever”.

This fascinating book is more than just a history of Sissinghurst, it is the story of Adam Nicolson’s goal for the land there to live again, to become the landscape of orchards, cattle, fruit and sheep he remembered from his childhood.
This is a biography of a great property and the story of one man’s inheritance and the steering of it in a new direction
If you are planning a visit to Sissinghurst, something I warmly recommend, do be sure to read Adam Nicolson’s book in advance. It will add much to your time there. You may even find him strolling about the property.
This is a superb book, handsome too, with gorgeous endpapers and a most comprehensive index, always a plus in my book............
Here is my favourite line where the author has been talking about his father's letters and his family of writers stretching over three or four generations - "Sissinghurst floats on a sea of words ".


Gavin McLean said...

Nicolson’s one of the best writers – period. Read his Sea Room if you ever see a copy. A magical meditation of history, place and inheritance.

Local Reader said...

Sissinghurst was floating on a sea of rainwater when I last visited. Sheltering in the gateway arch, I heard Nigel Nicolson say to a staff member: "This is good for the garden". She glanced at us, a huddle of drowned rats wishing we'd stayed indoors, and replied: "Not so good for the visitors though." He seemed to suddenly notice that other people were present, and dismissed us with, "Yes, yes."

Then I remembered his parents had called visitors "shillingses".

Gavin McLean said...

Thanks, too, for the blogs this year. They’ve led me to some wonderful purchases, most recently Bob Carr’s My Reading Life.

Country Bookseller said...

I would also like to thank you for your blog. I am a country bookseller (I will remain anon so it doesn't look like I'm seeking publicity)and your blog is far and away the most vaulable tool I have at my disposal. It influences what I buy, it influences my local library's buying decisions and it sure as hell influences what my customers buy. I give out to all of them your blog site and almost without exception they have bought a book as a result of your reviews/information/links.
Thank you and all the best for a happy amnd sunny holiday.

David Dreaver said...

I have nothing to do with the book trade apart from the fact that I am an occasional book buyer and a voracious book borrower but I feel exactly the same about this blog as the country bookseller does.
It is my first port of call every morning, it is fantastic and I want to express warmest thanks to you for going to so much seemingly unpaid work to bring it to us.
Checking back through this year I see I ordered a total of 37 books from my local branch library. Some they had, others they ordered especially for me. One of the women there calls me the man who orders books from Beattie's Blog so I can vouch for the fact that you are known in library circles.
Thank you, keep up the good work in 2009.