I’m not getting very far with the post-holiday cleaning blitz. The house, particularly at the top, in the girls’ bedrooms, is a tip. It’s not just a case of needing more bin bags unfortunately. Though that would help. The problem feels bigger, more fundamental than that. I always knew that we were a family of collectors – our house is a minimalist’s nightmare – but I worry that without realising it we have actually become hoarders, which is a far more disturbing state of affairs. I am chipping away at the hoard and the hall is filling up with fat sacks to go to charity, but it’s a thankless task.

In an earlier post I likened the process to an archeological dig, but I was wrong, it’s more like a war. The war against Random and Unnecessary Stuff, a lot of which seems to be broken pink plastic, but which the girls insist they cannot live without. Battles are being fought on more fronts that a single person can manage. The insurgents are driven off each morning¬†(figuratively, that is, I make them walk to school), only to return in the afternoon, full of vigour and ready to throw themselves into the challenge of regaining the ground I’ve conquered in their absence. It is driving me mad.

But I have devised a new strategy: after an energetic skirmish in the morning, which usually sees a few key items being carted off to the car, destined for the charity shop or dump, I beat a retreat to the sofa and immerse myself in a book for an hour. I find this restores my mental health, and I can enter the fray for a final round before the opposition troops return. I am currently flipping between Madame Bovary and New Selected Stories of Alice Munro. I am ashamed to say that I have never read anything by Alice Munro before (ditto Flaubert), and I find her a complete revelation. Sharp-eyed and witty, Munro draws deft descriptions of people and places, and somehow expands the form so that each story has the weight and power of a novel. The real revelation for me, though, aside from her elegant prose, is that however hard I might try, I can never see where her stories are going Рquite how this incident will connect with that, or what the significance of that turn of phrase or detail might be. This is a feat of extraordinary brilliance, I think, in a short story, where so often it can feel as though the text has been marked up with red pen, so that the reader can be in no doubt where the plot is heading.

So, if you are fighting similar home-front battles to mine and you find yourself in need of a little mental stimulation, I cannot recommend this collection of stories highly enough. I ought to add, too, that even if your life is battle-free this book will do you good.