Shire Hell

by Rachel Johnson (Penguin, £6.99)

This novel provides a useful study in why none of us needs envy the lives of the rich, penned in their huge white stucco houses in Kensington and Chelsea or trapped in country piles with croquet lawns and pet cemeteries. Mimi may have decamped from Notting Hill (where the pressure to get your child into the right nursery begins in utero; the doctor advises a scheduled Caesarean so it's born on the right day of the month) to Dorset, but she has packed up all her petty snobberies and social mountaineering crampons and taken them with her.

Shire Hell

This is no escape: the farm shop is posher than Harrods, and it becomes necessary to understand both the etiquette of the shooting party and how to avoid being given a chore if you stay at someone else's country place (walk around with a log under your arm, pretending to be usefully engaged in fire-making). There are some choice phrases — 'atrophy wives' is one — and a tight accuracy to the observations, which are all very current (it's David and Samantha this, Daylesford Organic that); so, presumably the underscoring bitchiness ('I know that telling Clare I might be pregnant is perhaps inadvisable given her ten-year struggle to conceive but I simply can't resist it') that makes you so pleased not to be part of it is all true as well.

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