Friday, 16 September 2016

Book Reviews: 16 September

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

Written by Lady Guest


Dr-James-Barry-176DR JAMES BARRY: A Woman Ahead of her Time by Dr Michael du Preez and Jeremy Dronfield (Oneworld, £16.99)
Everyone has secrets, but few could equal that of 19th-century army surgeon Dr James Barry, Inspector General of hospitals, duellist, eccentric and performer of the first successful Caesarean in Africa. After his death in 1865, he was discovered to be Margaret Bulkley, an Irishwoman.

(S)he had broken all the rules of Georgian society and achieved greatness at a huge personal cost. This thoroughly researched, stimulating book explores the reasons behind her choice to live as a man. Aged 12, Margaret, a Cork grocer’s daughter, was raped, bore a child and fled to London with her mother.

She adopted the name of her uncle James Barry, a successful painter, and disguised herself as a man to read medicine at Edinburgh Medical School, planning to later sail to Venezuela, where women could practise medicine.

This became impossible after revolution broke out in that country, leaving Margaret trapped as a man. She joined the British Army and served in the Crimea, where she clashed with Florence Nightingale, who remembered Barry as a ‘brute’.

The chapters on Barry’s scandalous love affair with Lord Charles Somerset, Governor of Capetown, who presumably realised his doctor was female, are particularly intriguing. The authors point out that, while Nightingale is idolised for her groundbreaking role in nursing, Barry’s achievements have been overlooked. Barry was ahead of her time indeed, both in terms of her professional life and of her gender fluidity.

Highly recommended, although gory descriptions of sickness and death make it unsuitable for squeamish readers.
Rebecca Wallersteiner

Horror-176HORROR: A Literary History, edited by Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes (British Library, £20)

An impressive scholarly collection with lavish illustrations, this is the type of anthology that would make a perfect gift for someone with a love of the horror genre, and an intellectual curiosity about its history. It is a comprehensive and serious survey, from 1764 to present- day fiction, as indicated by the quality of the academics involved in the project.

Structured chronologically and continually in dialogue with the context in which each text is situated, this collection is substantial in detail and transatlantic in its range. The combative undertone running through each chapter is the justified contention that horror fiction is neither throwaway nor unable to make a serious contribution to canonical studies of literature.

Suitable both for scholars and general readers with an interest in the genre, Dr Reyes’s text articulates cross- disciplinary and cross-media analysis in a manner highly accessible to the lay reader.

Like the characters haunting the pages, once drawn into its clutches the reader will struggle to escape. Insightful, compelling and as gripping as a horror story.
Martyn Colebrook


Behind-A-Georgian-Door-176Family folklore 
BEHIND A GEORGIAN DOOR: Perfect Rooms, Imperfect Lives by Artemsia D’ecca (Phaeton, £8.99)

Dublin’s Georgian townhouses act as settings, characters and multilayered symbols in three compelling novellas, set after the financial crash of 2008. A young couple drift apart as they face the threat of losing their home. A wealthy widow is haunted by her perceived failure as a mother to a bland and money-grubbing son.

 A woman whose husband died just after their honeymoon becomes a recluse in her vast, inherited house, attended by grateful tenants who could otherwise not afford to live there. Rooms stand for the characters’ emotional ghosts, such as in the case of reclusive maud, who avoids her opulent dining room where her wedding gifts are still unopened. 

The houses have biographies as carefully plotted as their inhabitants. Described in vivid detail, the reconfigurations of interiors – from grand colonial residences to desirable flats, meagre bedsits or modern mansions – chart developments in Ireland’s troubled history.

Symbols of a violent colonial past, and of modern-day bankers’ greed, the houses are beautiful objects that elicit conflicted responses. These deeply affecting stories depict a precarious world of evictions and repossessions, where acts of kindness sound a bright redemptive note.

A powerful study of the human cost of financial collapse.
Juanita Coulson



Flora: An artistic Voyage through the World of Plants by Dr Sandra Knapp (Natural History Museum, £30) 

At this time of year, when our gardens are past their best, green-fingered readers will enjoy botanist Sandra Knapp’s exquisitely illustrated new book profiling poppies, magnolias, irises, tulips and water-lilies – and the explorers who braved jungle, disease and wars to collect them. The stories behind these exotic blooms are fascinating. In 1904, Scottish plant-hunter George Forrest travelled to China to collect specimens for Kew. When rebellion broke out and all his party were slaughtered, he outwitted his pursuers and survived despite falling down a ravine, returning home with species of gentians. This beautiful book would make a stunning present for plant lovers.


William--Dorothy-Wordsworth-176WILLIAM & DOROTHY WORDSWORTH: All IN EACH OTHER by Lucy Newlyn (OUP, £19.99)
A creative partnership spanning 50 years, the close bond between the romantic poet and his ‘beloved sister’ has been the subject of speculation, from feminist readings of Dorothy as an exploited, silenced voice to accusations of incest.

Dorothy and William were separated as children and reunited after their father’s death, later setting up home together. Newlyn explores their shared passion for writing, walking and their native Lake District as an attempt to reclaim a sense of family.

Her impressively researched book is the first to give full attention to Dorothy’s complete writings alongside those of her sibling, exploring their relationship in terms of their fractured family history, and recasting the pair as literary equals.
Juanita Coulson

PENGUIN MODERNTHE WEEKENDS OF YOU AND ME by Fiona Walker (Sphere, £7.99)The-Weekends-Of-You-and-Me-176
Jo is a newly single thirty-something looking for anything but a serious relationship. When she finds herself instantly attracted to the handsome but roguish Harry, she goes to stay with him in a run-down but charming cottage in Shropshire.

As the pair's relationship unfolds, they agree to return to the cottage for one weekend every year. Fans of David Nicholls’s One Day will love this hilarious, honest and at times sad take on a couple’s first meeting, marriage and precarious life together, set in the idyllic, rolling Shropshire hills.

Walker’s characters come to life through witty dialogue and comical episodes. A heartfelt and addictive read that will leave you hoping for more.
Rebecca Maxted

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