Many years after the death of her grandmother, Lulah Ellender inherited a curious object - a book of handwritten lists. On the face of it, Elisabeth's lists seemed rather ordinary - shopping lists, items to be packed for a foreign trip, a tally of the eggs laid by her hens. But from these everyday fragments, Lulah began to weave together the extraordinary life of the grandmother she never knew - a life lived in the most rarefied and glamorous of circles, from Elisabeth's early years as an ambassador's daughter in 1930s China, to her marriage to a British diplomat and postings in Madrid under Franco's regime, post-war Beirut, Rio de Janeiro and Paris.
But it was also a life of stark contrasts - between the opulent excess of embassy banquets and the deprivations of wartime rationing in England, between the unfailing charm she displayed in public and the dark depressions that blanketed her in private, between her great appetite for life and her sudden, early death.
Throughout Elisabeth's adult life, the lists were a source of structure and comfort. And now, as Lulah learns that she is losing her own mother, she finds herself turning to her grandmother's life, and to her much-travelled book of lists, in search of meaning and solace.
Elisabeth's Lists is both a vivid memo and a moving study of the familial threads that bind us, even beyond death.
World English Language: Granta Books
"With great compassion and imagination, Elisabeth's grand-daughter Lulah tenderly brings to life the grandmother she never knew." Elisa Segrave, author of The Girl from Station X: My Mother's Unknown Life
"... a compelling evocation of diplomats' supposedly glamorous lifestyles in the years before and after the Second World War." Daily Express
"This is a hauntingly beautiful meditation on life and death, spanning three generations of a family." The Guardian
"As she perseveres with a story that travels between past, present and future, it is Ellender’s own courage at confronting and living through these painful truths that makes her book so powerful and enriching." The Spectator
"Go to your 'books to read' list and place Elisabeth's Lists right at the top. Charming without ever being whimsical, this is a valuable historical record from a woman we are only now getting to know." Damian Barr, author of Maggie & Me