Friday, 26 August 2016

Book Reviews: 26th August

The Lady reviews of the latest books available to buy or download now.


books-Whispers-through-a-meWHISPERS THROUGH A MEGAPHONE by Rachel Elliott (ONE , £8.99)

The lasting, damaging legacy of a toxic mother is at the root of this incisive and quirky study of modern relationships, sexual identity, disillusionment and redemption.

Miriam Delaney has not left her house in three years. She speaks only in whispers – one of the many scars left by her tyrannical mother. But one day she decides it is time to step outside and reclaim her life. At the same time Ralph, a psychotherapist, walks out on his wife after a shocking discovery, and goes into hiding. Their friendship forged by chance and necessity, these two engaging misfits help each other to unravel their past and weave their way into a happier future.

The plot performs some daunting acrobatics that would seem implausible were it not for the flawed, palpable humanity of its characters. Elliott’s narrative voice shifts nimbly from compassionate to wry to whimsical, as nuanced and offbeat as her protagonist. A psychotherapist herself, she deftly nails the tangled emotional worlds of her characters. The tragic backstory of Miriam and her mother is revealed through well-timed flashbacks. It is a visceral psychological drama, leavened with humour and strung with the taut suspense of a thriller.
Juanita Coulson

ON TRAILS by Robert Moor (Aurum Press, £16.99)

Having ‘thru-hiked’ 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in the spring/ and summer of 2009, Robert Moor was inspired to undertake a seven-year global investigation into the nature of trails and pathways in general, and this outstanding treatise is the result.

Moor considers the religious symbolism of paths, the psychology of our impulse to tame the wild and the extraordinary efficiency of nature’s trail-builders great and small. Along the way we learn that the earliest traces of a creature deciding to move from ‘here’ to ‘there’ date back 565 million years, a singlecelled slime mould can design a railway system as adroitly as Japan’s top engineers, and elephants will trek to mourn at the graves of their fallen comrades.

In the end, the story of trails is nothing less than the history of life on Earth, culminating in the myriad lines (physical, philosophical, digital) that connect us.
Richard Tarrant

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman (Sceptre Books, £14.99)

books-Britt-Marie-Was-HereBritt-Marie is the talk of the town. The eccentric 63-year-old has just left her unfaithful husband and moved to the quiet town of Borg to start again.

With her work as the local football team’s trainer, her obsessive cleaning and devotion to order, Britt-Marie is kept very busy. But as she gets to know more of the townsfolk she realises that everyone is just as damaged and fragile as she is. Moreover, her neighbours soon recognise that there is a big heart beneath Britt-Marie’s awkward and at times brusque exterior. As she learns about the lives of her new friends, she begins to question everything about her old life, with its limitations and frustrations, and dares to make plans for her new one.

A novel of charm, wit and intelligence that is a joyous and life-affirming read.
Helena Gumley-Mason


books-book-of-the-weekAn Irish rover spills all
I’M NOT ONE TO GOSSIP, BUT… by John McEntee (Biteback Publishing, £18.99)

When Private Eye was in its infancy, Willie Rushton invented a Fleet Street journalist, Lunchtime O’Booze. He wrote flamboyantly on all manner of topics, was Irish and was given to drinking heavily over lunch.

It is good to know from this lively book of memories that O’Booze is alive and kicking in the person of John McEntee – even if he may be the last of a long and noble line.

There are two strands to his book and the first is the best – an account of his Irish beginnings in County Cavan, one of seven children, all of them devoted to their mother. ‘My mother Judy was beautiful and daft,’ McEntee writes. When Ireland replaced the pound with the Euro in 2002, Judy declared, ‘Now why couldn’t they have waited until all the old people were dead first?’ A devout Catholic, when she won £80,000 on the Lottery she bought £1,000 worth of Masses for each of her (seven) children, including John.

Was it money well spent? Some people reading of McEntee’s rackety career as a Fleet Street gossip writer may have their doubts. But I know from my time as editor of The Oldie what an excellent journalist McEntee is. He ends with a requiem for the old journalism which he represents. ‘The national newspapers’ newsrooms are now filled with Terracotta Armies of earnest young men and women rewriting magazine articles… about people they don’t know and will never meet.’

So farewell, then.
Richard Ingrams


PETER LINDBERGH: A Different Vision On Fashion Photography by Thierry-Maxime Loriot (Taschen, £49.99)books-coffee-table-book
German fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh has been credited with the birth of the supermodel, paving the way for a new aesthetic and redefining ideals of female beauty. His epoch-defining cover for British Vogue’s January 1990 issue, shot in downtown New York City, featured the five original ‘supers’: Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington and Cindy Crawford. His arresting images are infused with cinematic drama and narrative power, emphasising his subjects’ characters as well as their looks. This exquisite book brings together work from four decades of Lindbergh’s illustrious career, with commentary from fashion luminaries including Jean Paul Gaultier and Anna Wintour, who commissioned Lindbergh to shoot her first US Vogue cover. A must for fashionistas and photography buffs.



THE BIRDCAGE by Clive Aslet (Sandstone Press, £8.99)
In the First World War, Greece was divided between pro-Allied and pro-Axis factions. In 1915 a small British- French force landed at Salonika to help the Serbs resist attack by the Bulgarians. The Serbs were defeated before the force could get into the fight, and the British dug a vast entanglement of barbed wire – the Birdcage – around Salonika. This became a melting pot of Greeks, British, French, Serbians and, because Greece was technically neutral, Austrians. Clive Aslet beautifully captures this Alice-In- Wonderland town in a novel bursting with comedy and drama. Brave balloonists, fiendish spies, gypsies and a bevy of nurses – there is more than a hint of Blackadder. Written with a countryman’s eye for ground, and for horses, the campaign is described in a laconic style reminiscent of the contemporary reporting. The perfect book for a Greek holiday – or to cheer you up when you get back.
Stephen Coulson

THE MARRIAGE OF OPPOSITES by Alice Hoffman (Scribner, £7.99)
Hoffman is a master of evocatively described places – in this case, the Caribbean island of St Thomas in the early 19th century. Her latest novel, a tale of rebellion, prejudice and forbidden love, is a fictionalised account of the life of Rachel Pomié, mother of Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro. Immersed in her father’s books from an early age, Rachel, whose French- Jewish ancestors emigrated to escape the Inquisition, regards the Paris she’s never been to as her real home, where ‘everything beautiful began and ended’. From that fabled place arrives Fréderic, her late husband’s nephew, with whom the young, widowed Rachel falls in love. Their marriage, considered incestuous by the Jewish community, makes them outcasts, but produces a child who will find success in the city of his mother’s dreams. This captivating novel transports the reader to a sensual world of lush tropical landscapes, colonial opulence and conflicted passions.


Genuine Italian recipes that will whet your appetite – and your wanderlust.

AS THE ROMANS DO by Eleonora Galasso (Mitchell Beazley, £25)
There is no better way to evoke a city than through its food. In this cookbook-cum-travel guide, Galasso leads us through the streets, palazzos and alleyways of her home town, stopping for meals prepared and eaten in the style of contemporary Romans. She is an Instagram star and ‘food interpreter’ – but don’t turn away just yet. Her writing, if at times flowery, captures a sense of tradition and place. From breakfasts to family lunches and dinner parties, her recipes are served with scrumptious nuggets of knowledge. Sticky buns called maritozzi (little husbands) were made by medieval maidens in a bid to capture an eligible man’s attention – competitive baking is nothing new, then. A far cry from pizza and pasta.

FLORENTINE by Emiko Davies (Hardie Grant Books, £25)
This eye-catchingly illustrated culinary love letter to Florence should come with a health warning: just flicking through its pages will make you ravenous. It will also make you fall for Tuscany’s capital, like Japanese-Australian food writer Davies did (she even married a local). The recipes are organised around food outlets – ‘The Pastry Shop’, ‘The Bakery’, ‘The Market’ – with a final street-food flourish, ‘Out & About’. Pear and ricotta ravioloni, followed by hazelnut and crema gelato, could be my Desert Island Lunch. And if you fancy an edifying break between cooking sprees, there are plenty of pages of history and memoir, along with beautiful photography. Busy, bustling and multilayered – like the city itself.

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