Keggie Carew (Canongate, £16.99)

By her own admission, Keggie Carew has a talent for getting into toe-curlingly awkward situations. “Something irresistible attracts mishap and misadventure to me,” she says, “or me to it.” Reading the anecdotes of Quicksand Tales, a compendium of her most embarrassing moments, some might suggest that she’d got off lightly, but it’s worth bearing in mind that these are only the ones she can bring herself to own up to. Plus, it’s got a lot to do with the way she tells ‘em.

Carew first appeared on our radar with the 2016 Costa Biography Award-winning Dadland, her memoir of losing her father to dementia. With a background in contemporary art, she’s lived on several continents, which in her case just means a broader canvas for calamity. From being freaked out by a potential murderer at an isolated campsite by Lake Tahoe to having a confusing dinner with the Auckland academic whose brother is a movie star, she has blundered from one sticky situation to another. Sometimes, she was the innocent party, more or less. Sometimes, she was provoked – and who wouldn’t react badly to the ransacking of their most sentimental treasures? And sometimes she doesn’t come out of it smelling of roses at all. There are times when it’s all too easy to take against Keggie, such as when she allows her husband to feed hallucinogenic mushrooms to a highly-strung houseguest, or seems a little too eager to watch corpses burn on the banks of the Ganges.

Luckily, Carew has a knack for spinning an amusing yarn, and this account of her life’s various disasters can be painfully funny, thanks largely to her self-awareness and willingness to show up her own absurdity as much as other people’s. A chapter about her experiences in an overly-strict Tayside hotel comically exposes the pettiness of the proprietors. But the fact that Carew’s long-awaited revenge is equally petty, as she drops more and more clues to its name until one finally throws the book aside to Google it, makes it funnier still.

But there are serious overtones too. When she recounts the misadventures of a four-day camel expedition in Tunisia, and the awkward relationship with the driver they later hire in India, she and her husband do come across as stereotypically well-meaning but naïve Westerners, hankering after authenticity but unable to fully grasp the imbalance between wealthy tourists and the impoverished locals who service them. Their discomfort when the people they’ve hired on holiday intrude on their lives back home feels like nothing more than their due.

And in a chapter about her disastrous efforts to cultivate a half-acre garden, which breaks from the theme of social embarrassment to take a more philosophical turn, she learns to stop fighting the insects and rodents ruining her plants and accept that nature is their domain, not hers. Even here, though, the incongruous imagery of a molehill materialising in her dining room makes it impossible to keep a straight face.

Currently, she and her New Zealand-born husband Jonathan are setting up a 16-acre nature reserve. What excruciating misunderstandings that has involved remain to be seen.