The more perceptive of you might have noticed that Autumn has hit the UK with the full force of a drunken lout running straight into the window of a kebab shop. #winteriscoming, readers, and I am woefully unprepared for it. The sudden change in temperature has left me wondering where my jumpers are (answer: in storage in Edinburgh), why I only seem to have one glove out of every pair (answer: pathological idiocy) and why oh why I moved back to Europe (answer: lunacy).

Thankfully the season does have its charms. We tried to light a fire in the chimney a few days ago, which was wonderfully atmospheric and comforting for the three and a half minutes it lasted. Basic survival skills: we r doin it rong. When all else fails, I say, retreat to the duvet with a hot water bottle and a pile of books. Here are my autumn reads:

What I did, by Christopher Wakling

The adult world fraying at the seams seen from the point of view of 6 year old Billy. The narrative device could have been cloying, but the author, whose sage advice I was lucky to receive on the Curtis Brown Creative course I attended earlier this year, handled it deftly and with a brutal commitment that left me on the edge of my seat. There are also some great stories and drawings on Billy’s blog.

Verre Cassé, by Alain Mabanckou

I tried to read this in English and gave up miserably after the first few pages. The version originale is riotous and unrelenting, a vision of a Congo broken and exultant, grotesque and heartbreaking.

L’Homme à l’envers, by Fred Vargas

Fred Vargas is my literary crush of 2012. I inhaled all of her books in the space of a few obsessive weeks. This is crime writing at its most poetic and subtle. Commissaire Adamsberg solves crimes by taking long walks and observing seagulls, and in this chapter of his adventures he tracks a werewolf through the French wilderness. Eternal thanks to Emma for introducing me to  the series. In English here.

The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace

I’ve just started reading this but I am already enthralled by the writing, its buoyancy and radiance. I am forcing myself to read this slowly and to savour every page. I want to lie my head on its shoulder and let it lull me into peacefulness.

Mmmm, books.

This may or may not have anything to do with the fact I am trying to impress a penguin. What are you reading these days?


The ourangutan sits slumped at the walnut dining table. It’s obviously been a bad night. There are broken plates everywhere, stuff spilling out from the slack-hinged cabinet against the wall. The geese – they’re fucking huge, the sort of thing that could peck your eyes out just by looking at you – are still partying hard. No one knows who invited them. The camels are so high they’re eating the house plants, and the lapdogs have fashioned robes out of some cashmere scarves. There’s talk of karaoke.

Drug-fuelled hallucination? Perhaps. This was the scene in one of the windows at the newish Hermès Rive Gauche store near the Lutétia. I love me a good Hermès window. I think that if I were horrendously rich I would want to live like this, in a riot of thick woolen carpets, taxidermy and leather saddles. I’d move from room to room swaddled in silks and cashmere, rinse my teeth in Champagne, and get minions to strew dead leaves and black pearls the size of my fist on my path. I would be, in fact, Leila Menchari, the designer who has been doing Hermès’ windows since 1977.

In my unspent youth I worked at Hermès, in the flagship store on the Faubourg St Honoré. Several times a year the blinds would be drawn, the windows shielded from the prying eyes of the public. “She’s here”, we’d whisper, and there was an unspoken rule that She should not be disturbed. Apparently when Leila came she would lie in the window displays, behind the closed blinds, reclining languorously with a glass of champagne in one hand. She would say:

Je cherche ma muse.

I’m looking for my muse.

This newer store is really quite lovely, a bright open space moulded by large yurt-like structures, set against the mosaic walls of the swimming pool it used to be.

There’s a florist so you’re greeted by the sweet smell of fresh flowers when you enter, a café (completely empty when I went, cakes looked delicious from afar) and a book section that featured this gem:

Bestiaire du Gange, a ridiculously beautiful bestiary screenprinted by hand in India on thick grainy paper. More pictures here and here. I wants it. I needs it. I lusts for it, still, 10 days later. It will be mine. Oh yes. It will be mine.

Where: Hermès Rive Gauche, 17 rue de Sèvres, Paris 6ème. Métro Sèvres-Babylone

Tip: The Hermès stores are a little bit intimidating from the outside, but  the staff is always unwaveringly friendly. If sweaty American tourists in shorts with bumbags full of crumpled euros can shop there, anyone can.