The Marches by Rory Stewart (Jonathan Cape, £18.99)
Born in Hong Kong to a Scottish diplomat father, Rory Stewart later entered the Foreign Office serving in Indonesia, Iraq and as the head of an NGO in Afghanistan, and wrote illuminating accounts of his experiences in his books The Places in Between and The Prince of the Marshes.
Elected a Conservative MP in 2010 and now a minister of state at the Department for International Development, he has now turned his attention to walking hundreds of miles around the border between England and Scotland, to discover firstly his borderland Penrith constituency, and secondly his own father, with whom he shares some of the walking and much of his reflections on life in public service.
Inevitably given the locations of his walks, Stewart’s theme is borders. This is, in part, a memoir of the Scottish independence referendum, when these issues were particularly under the microscope. But he has a writer’s eye, and also fruitfully considers borders more broadly. He gives great thought to his father’s unfashionable, unmitigated love for Empire. Time is also given to the borders of personal identity: what makes us feel English, or Scottish, or British? And, during the book’s poignant conclusion where Stewart searches for a plot for his father’s grave, his thoughts turn naturally to the borders between life and death.
The Marches is a memoir full of depth and beguiling humour. To say I share few of Stewart’s political opinions is putting it mildly; nonetheless his prose is captivating and I hugely admired his dedication in getting to know closely the landscape and people he serves in Parliament.