Friday, 10 February 2017

Book Reviews: 10 February

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

OUT NOW

swallowing-mercurySWALLOWING MERCURY by Wioletta Greg (Portobello Books, £12.99)
Everyday life in 1980s rural Poland is recounted through the eyes of an inquisitive, imaginative girl called Wiola in this richly evocative novel: a multi-layered world of religious faith, superstition and practicality under the strictures of the Soviet regime. Family life on a farm is conjured up with an unfailing eye for telling domestic detail. The central character’s quirky cast of mind and distinctive voice help turn the ordinary into something extraordinary: the endless round of farm chores, churchgoing and village gatherings, acquires a magical, atavistic character in Wiola’s account of them.

The intrusion of the adult world into this idyll of innocence – in the form of death, disease, and sexual danger – is one of the novel’s central themes, lending itself to unexpected twists and arresting shifts in mood and atmosphere. Along with vibrant imagery and memorable characters, much of the novel’s appeal lies in this sense of risk, of skating on thin ice as a reader: lulled into a playful and safe world one moment, shocked by a lurch into darkness the next. Although a carefully depicted sense of place is central to the novel, its setting is one that anyone from a farming background or knowledge of village life will relate to. An emotionally charged but meticulously plotted coming-of-age story that is at once intimate and an eloquent snapshot of a time and place.
Juanita Coulson









the-owl-at-the-windowTHE OWL AT THE WINDOW: A Memoir Of Loss And Hope by Carl Gorham (£14.99)
This heart-warming memoir begins with the author’s memories of his eight-year-old self in 1970s Brighton, shut off from the world in his bedroom, dressing up as historical characters and recreating their daily lives. Carl is an eccentric boy: he comes to breakfast dressed as king or a knight, and his mother labours for six months to knit him chain mail, but draws the line at bidding past £7 for an 18th-century pistol. He is comfortable in this world, is prone to obsessions, and it’s clear he has a strong view of who he is.

And so, as the story takes off and the follow-up chapter is about the death of his young wife, Vikki, from cancer, the reader is already invested in Carl. Weaving different narratives, time frames and locations, the author revisits his past, his bereavement, and how he is rebuilding his life around his six-year-old daughter.

A comedy writer by trade, the undertones of humour are present in difficult scenarios, such as his thoughts and feelings while at the undertakers. Although placed in a daunting predicament, Carl Gorham has written a very readable memoir which, behind the inevitable sorrow, brims with optimism. It is a small but substantial book of hope.
Lyndsy Spence








BOOK OF THE WEEK

a-gentleman-in-moscowA room with views

A GENTLEMEN IN MOSCOW by Amor Towles (Hutchinson, £12.99)
Published last autumn in the US, this successor to Towles’ bestselling Rules Of Civility has also enjoyed a lengthy run at the top of the American charts. And frankly, it’s easy to see why. A Gentleman In Moscow is charming, light of touch and completely undemanding: if you’re in need of respite from the prevailing gloom, look no further.

The gentleman of the title is Count Alexander Rostov. When we first make his acquaintance in 1922, he is 30-something; when we leave it, he is in his mid-sixties. This is particularly significant because the intervening years are spent in a single location, Moscow’s swish if sadly diminished Hotel Metropol, which Rostov is forbidden from leaving on pain of death. (His crime? Writing a poem.)

Towles has set himself quite a challenge here: how to keep both Rostov and his readers from terminal cabin fever. But the Count is a resourceful type, and Towles has enough tricks up his sleeve to ensure that the pace never flags. Just as well: time and timing are the great themes of this novel. Rostov is quite the rhetorician and the flowery flights of Towles’ omniscient narrator may not be to all tastes, but this tale of confinement is, on the whole, wonderful escapism.
Stephanie Cross






COFFEE TABLE BOOK

PLACES OF THE MIND: BRITISH WATERCOLOUR LANDSCAPES 1850 – 1950 by Kim Sloan and Jessica Feather (Thames & Hudson, £20)
Britain’s landscape has always inspired a great variety of art for which this country is deservedly well-known. This book aims to show how every landscape picture, however realistic, is a construct of the artist’s mind and imagination. The chosen works chart a huge change in the environment of Britain and styles of painting.

The-Old-Bowling-Green new

We start with the idealised Victorian idyll of Helen Allingham, progressing to the harsher industrialisation of the countryside and surreal post-war landscapes by Paul Nash and Henry Moore. In between are works by Ruskin, Rossetti, Sargent and many others. Published to coincide with the British Museum’s exhibition of the same title (23 February – 27 August), it is not merely a catalogue, but stands alone as a very interesting read.
Hugh St Clair

PAPERBACKS
paperbacks

WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR by Paul Kalanithi (Vintage, £8.99)
Doctors may treat young dying patients every day, but rarely do they have to face their own death in their thirties. When neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, aged 36,  having recently become a father, he wrote this heart-rending memoir examining what makes life worth living. Written during the last 22 months of his life, sadly he died before he could finish it. An eloquent meditation on our mortality, the brain, the meaning of life, fatherhood and the doctor-patient relationship, this powerful, inspirational book should appeal to readers who are enjoying watching BBC2’s current  hospital series. I couldn’t put this profoundly moving memoir down – but it is not for the squeamish or faint-hearted, and may scare hypochondriacs. Rebecca Wallersteiner

ON THE WILDER SHORES OF LOVE by Lesley Blanch, edited by Georgia de Chamberet (Virago, £10.99)
Lesley Blanch was a bold writer with a sharp intellect. Her lifelong passions were Russia, the Balkans and the Middle East. Before her death, aged 103, she was writing about her eccentric Edwardian childhood, and this forms the beginning of her memoir. Edited by her goddaughter, Georgia de Chamberet, this book chronicles Blanch’s marriage and her friendships with literary figures, such as Nancy Mitford. It also includes a selection of her journalism, which brings to life the artistic melting pot that was London between the World Wars. All of this conspires to create the story of a fascinating woman. Lyndsy Spence

THE LADY’S RECIPE READS

Forget formal dinner parties: fuss-free, relaxed entertaining is the order of the day. By Juanita Coulson

recipereads

GATHERINGS: Recipes For Feasts Great And Small by Flora Shedden (Mitchell Beazley, £25)
Flora Shedden was the youngest competitor in 2015’s Great British Bake off, where she impressed judges and viewers alike. The recipes in the 20-year-old’s first book are refreshingly fuss-and-fad-free. A ‘gathering’ is her take on the kitchen supper: an opportunity to share food with friends without ‘going into panic mode’. But before you roll your eyes at another millennial foodie, consider this: among dietary crazes and rising eating disorders, shedden stirs a healthy splash of normality into the mix with ‘common-sense food – proper and honest ingredients’. If you have a daughter or granddaughter in her twenties, this is one for her – or try the easy-to-follow recipes yourself.

TASTE OF PERSIA: A Cook’s Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, And Kurdistan by Naomi Duguid (Artisan, £25)
With notes of saffron, pomegranate and rosewater infusing meze-style sharing plates, Persian cuisine is ideal for tasty but informal entertaining. In her extensive travels, photographer and cook Naomi Duguid has explored the subtle culinary traditions of wider regions, as well as the better- known cuisine of Iran. Part cookbook, part travelogue, Taste of Persia includes stories and images from Duguid’s travels, along with straightforward recipes: herby half-moon hand pies; a hearty Easter stew; a moreish date-nut halva – all exotic enough to feel special, but without too much effort and stress.

Tweet us your recipe reads @TheLadyMagazine using #ladyrecipereads


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