In the social whirl

<strong>Diaries (1942-1954)</strong>

James Lees-Milne <em>John Murray, £25, 496pp</em>

ISBN 0719

Although best known today for his association with the National Trust, which he served as an architectural consultant, James Lees-Milne has also acquired a deserved reputation as one of the 20th century's most acerbic and incisive diarists. His diaries serve up gossip and social commentary in equal measure, but in a consistently readable and self-aware style.

Unlike a diarist such as Alan Clark, whose writings became more interesting as he grew older, Lees-Milne's earlier reminiscences are his most compelling. Dealing with this 12-year period of his life, the editor of the diaries, Michael Bloch (who will publish Lees-Milne's authorised biography next year), has skilfully condensed his writings into two clear periods.

The first ends in 1945 with the end of the Second World War; Lees-Milne is keener to recount the surreal social life that existed in the Blitz, as well as anecdotes of his country-house haunts. The second concerns his professional involvement with the National Trust, for which he came to be seen as a figurehead of sorts, and his turbulent relationship with Alvilde Chaplin, a gardening expert.

Throughout, Lees-Milne's humour and intelligence shine through, making this account of a tempestuous dozen years an illuminating and enjoyable read.