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Best books on gossip: Author Patricia Nicol suggests books on discussing rumours

Best books on gossip: Author Patricia Nicol suggests books on discussing rumours
06 Aug
12:03

A dear friend once described me as ‘a leaky vessel’. I could have taken umbrage, but that would have been hypocritical. The fact is, I love a gossip. Many is the happy hour I’ve whiled away in idle speculation.

The big stuff, I keep schtum about. I can keep a secret. There is a fine line which I try not to cross between swapping tittle-tattle and malicious loose talk.

Novels are often driven by speculation. ‘Highbury gossips! — Tiresome wretches,’ cries Mr Knightley in Jane Austen’s Emma. 

She suggested Jane Austen's Emma

She suggested Jane Austen's Emma

She also recommended Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott’s Swan Song

She also recommended Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott’s Swan Song

Author Patricia Nicol shared her recommendations on the best books about gossiping (pictured)

His peevishness is justified. By the time Mr Frank Churchill rides into Highbury, he has been feverishly anticipated for half the novel. As a result the excitement-starved ladies are almost star-struck to finally encounter the widowed Mr Weston’s son, though Churchill does little to justify their giddiness.

In our contemporary world, a rumour can go viral in seconds. Has loose talk cost lives? Almost certainly. The damage incriminating tales can do to a reputation has rarely been as compellingly explored as in Pierre de Laclos’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

Published in 1782, when a blameless reputation might be a woman’s most valuable asset, it exposes the corruption of pre-revolutionary France. Through its web of letters, it follows the scheming of two aristocrats, the male Vicomte de Valmont and female Marquise de Merteuil, who goad each other in games of seduction and manipulation. Both overplay their hands. He dies, but for Merteuil, it is exposure that brings about her ruin.

‘They told him everything. He told everyone else,’ is the tagline for Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott’s delicious Swan Song, one of my top tips for summer 2018. It recounts how, overnight, Truman Capote went from society darling to pariah after publishing a scurrilous roman-à-clef based on the confidences of the jet-setting beauties he called his ‘Swans’. They never forgave him.

His is a cautionary tale. Gossip’s fun, but taken too far it can develop a terrible momentum, inflicting as much, or more, damage on its perpetrator as its subject.

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