‘An Experiment in Leisure’ is a classic tale with a contemporary twist, told in an unforgettable voice that explores the emotional costs of social mobility, the possibilities of leaving and returning, the meanings of work and the ways a woman learns to love women. It’s a witty, bold debut, at once a tender portrait of youth and a piercing insight into the political, cultural and economic fault lines dividing Britain today.
In revolutionary struggle, if you don’t defeat your enemy, your enemy will defeat you. On his return to his hometown – and his wife – to aid the Cultural Revolution, soldier Aijun sees a young woman wandering barefoot along the railway tracks in the warm late-afternoon sun. Her name is Hongmei. From this moment on, an ‘unspeakably beautiful flower’ blooms in Aijun’s heart. As Aijun and Hongmei hurl themselves into their town’s revolutionary struggle, they become inseparable. They spend their days and nights stamping out feudalism, writing pamphlets and attending rallies: they are the engines of history. But soon, their sexual and revolutionary fervour begin to merge, and a crazed new love explodes between them. The party bosses are hugely impressed by the ardour of the pair’s work. Emboldened, the couple build a ‘tunnel of love’ – to further the revolution, of course.
On Boxing Day 1962, when Juliet Nicolson was eight years old, the snow began to fall. It did not stop for ten weeks. It was one of the coldest and harshest winters for 300 years. The drifts in East Sussex reached twenty-three feet. In London, milkmen made deliveries on skis. On Dartmoor 2,000 ponies were buried in the snow, and foxes ate sheep alive. It wasn’t just the weather that was bad. The threat of nuclear war had reached its terrifying height with the recent Cuban Missile Crisis. Unemployment was on the rise, de Gaulle was blocking Britain from joining the European Economic Community, Winston Churchill, still the symbol of Great Britishness, was fading. These shadows hung over a country paralysed by frozen heating oil, burst pipes and power cuts which are explored here.