Hi-jinx and social climbing

Headline, £19.99

HAVING spent the 90s working for the Sunday Telegraph, the Sunday Times Style Mag – where she ghost-wrote a column by Tara Palmer Tompkinson – and Tatler, Wendy Holden knows a thing or three about social snobbery, the chattering classes and that type of person deserving of a uniquely withering scorn: the social climber.

Her latest bestseller, Marrying Up, is a delightful skewering of royal ambitions and the aristocratic enclaves surrounding the tip top of society. Tapping into royal wedding fever with light-touch irony (something tells me Holden won’t be penning a Riot Romance), the story revolves around one particularly long-legged, be-pearled lassie called Alexa McDonald, a shameless and self-confessed social climber. McDonald has set her sights on marrying a marquis (at the very least), wanting a tiara, if not a crown, before she hangs up her dancing shoes. Befriending the hapless Florrie in her gold-digging masterplan, Alexa’s plan looks set to triumph, until Florrie’s mother appears to cotton onto her scheming.

Meanwhile, her old schoolfriend, archeology student Polly, has fallen for a vet she meets in an Oxfordshire village. But hang on – is he as boy-next-door as he appears, or could Polly have unwittingly struck the jackpot? This tale of prince-finding makes for a very cheery antidote to the dire events in the news currently and if you’re heading off on holiday, it is the very best sort of beach read. On the other hand, if you’re the type who finds Cinderella-style tales for the modern Sloane irritating, you might want to consider something else. Wealth of Nations (see below), anyone?
Zoe Strimpel

Faber and Faber, £12.99

RICHARD T Kelly has followed his first novel, the chunky – in both its size and ambition – Crusaders, with a beguiling, Gothic-inflected thriller.

At the heart of the narrative are three Edinburgh childhood friends, now respected middle-aged doctors living in London. When hard-living but deeply-troubled cosmetic surgeon Robert Forrest – his own once good looks now fading – goes missing his friends, psychiatrist Steve Hartford and paediatric surgeon Grey Lochran, are gradually drawn into their own investigations, a web of deceit, menace and fatality.

For much of its duration the novel inhabits the points of view of Hartford and Lochran, illuminating middle-aged male anxieties with psychological acuity and lightness of touch, as well as driving Kelly’s deliciously sly thriller onwards. When point of view switches to that of Doctor Forrest himself – and we have never really believed him dead and are dying to hear from him – all Hell breaks loose. It’s an audacious shift of tone and largely successful, prompting the reinterpretation of much that has gone before and clarifying the novel’s thematic purposes.

This is a confident and bold novel about death, the desire for immortality, vanity and much besides. Its moral references as well as its form – letters, diaries, interviews and reports from a variety of points of view – are those of nineteenth century Gothic fiction. Doctors Frankenstein and Jekyll, Mr Hyde, Dorian Gray and Count Dracula all have a place in this dark, troubling, uncertain but finally, intensely human universe.
Jonathan Hourigan

Adam Smith institute, £9

At over 950 pages long, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations is a book that only few have ever read. Yet contained within are thoughts that changed the course of the history.

The Condensed Wealth of Nations is Adam Smith Institute director Eamonn Butler’s answer to the conundrum of spreading the ideas of an author virtually nobody reads. It is neither biographical nor historical, but a distillation of Smith’s key thoughts in modern language – managing to condense his thoughts in less than ten per cent of the space.

Bouncing off other intellectuals in the hub of genius that was the Scottish and wider European enlightenment, Butler’s book shines a light on just how radical the founder of economics really was on the division of labour, the benefits of exchange and free trade.

Given that few will read the real the thing, Butler’s 84 pages are the best way to get a taste of a man whose ideas – both in economics and ethics – shed much light on the human condition and helped make the modern world.
Phillip Salter