Friday, 17 February 2017

Book Reviews: 17 February

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


The-Wild-OtherTHE WILD OTHER: A Memoir By Clover Stroud (Hodder & Stoughton, £20)
This memoir charts the willing descent of its lovely young narrator into various underworlds as she tries to process the grief of having her beloved mother neither dead nor alive. Clover’s mother, Charlotte Stroud, came off her horse onto her head at 52 and was present thereafter only physically as she descended into a proper underworld, her hellish and deteriorating condition confining her to the barracks of a series of care homes.

Simultaneously, her daughter, 16 at the time of the accident and who shared Charlotte’s obsessional love of horses, began to ‘live for two’ as she tested her physical and mental endurance and her personal safety around Ireland, America and Russia. Clover courts mayhem with a series of horse-world men, including cowboys, acrobats and mavericks.

The writing is mesmerising and so high-octane that you gallop through the book, gasping in disbelief that a young woman could be so brave and physically strong, and take so many risks. It is emotionally exhausting, but worth accompanying Clover to the end.
Mary Killen

first-loveFIRST LOVE by Gwendoline Riley (Granta, £12.99)
You could hardly call First Love a love story, although it is in part the anatomy of a marriage. Neve has been with the much older Edwyn for 18 months, but the two have enjoyed precious little in the way of a honeymoon period. Instead, the couple’s relationship is overshadowed by a drunken incident that took place shortly before their wedding, one which Edwyn – a terrible compound of self-pity and venom – seems hell-bent on holding over his wife.

Why these two have ended up together becomes clearer as we learn more about Neve’s own family: her ghastly mother and bullying father who, like Edwyn, seems more toddler than man. But Riley is too intelligent a writer to serve up reductive cod-freudianisms, even as Edwyn reaches for them.

This is a book of extraordinary potency that does full justice to the appalling tangles into which the heart can lead us. ‘It’s strange what we expect from other people, isn’t it?’ muses Neve at one point. Too true.
Stephanie Cross


molly-keanePluck of the Irish

MOLLY KEANE: A Life By Sally Phipps (Virago, £20)
Anglo-Irish writer Molly Keane (1904-1996) is best known for her darkly funny booker- shortlisted novel Good Behaviour, about a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship. This elegantly written new biography by Keane’s eldest daughter tells the story of the writer’s ‘enchanting’ and ‘troubled’ life. Now regarded as the Irish Nancy Mitford, Keane was born into the horse-loving world of crumbling Anglo-Irish gentility, which provided plentiful material for her novels: grand houses with threadbare silk curtains, ‘no heat’, ‘poor food’, few books – but plenty of sparkling conversation and love affairs.

Red-haired and vivacious, with ‘expressive, dark eyes that flashed with amusement or fury,’ Keane broke many hearts. Although she inherited her mother’s literary gifts, she felt closer to the Irish servants than her parents. She hid her early playwright success behind a pseudonym, even after John Gielgud directed her plays, fearing derision from the hunting, shooting and fishing set.

Phipps writes movingly about the tragic death of her father, Bobby, which caused Keane to stop writing for years. Phipps has triumphantly brought her complex mother back to life. A delightful read that provides a riveting glimpse into a lost world and its colourful characters.
Rebecca Wallersteiner


THENFORD: THE CREATION OF AN ENGLISH GARDEN by Michael and Anne Heseltine (Head of Zeus, £40)
Former deputy primer minister Michael Heseltine and his wife have spent 40 years developing the gardens at Thenford, their Northamptonshire Georgian house. This staggering project once inspired the Duke of Devonshire to take his gardening team from Chatsworth on an educational visit there.

BOOKimg708Thenford House

In this delightful book, illustrated with professional photography and family snapshots, Lord and Lady Heseltine recount the joys and headaches of transforming what was once overgrown woodland into the magnificent gardens they are today. They include a sculpture garden, a water garden and a lake, but the arboretum, with more than 3,500 species of tree, is Heseltine’s proudest achievement. A must for gardening enthusiasts. JC


SYBIL, OR THE TWO NATIONS by Benjamin Disraeli, edited by Nicholas Shrimpton (OUP, £10.99)
With a double career as a writer and politician, former prime minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) epitomised a long-gone era when our governing class was learned, creative and intellectual. First published in 1845, his novel of socioeconomic inequality and love across the widening gulf between rich and poor is still resonant and relevant today, when the rise of super-rich enclaves and the increasingly dire predicament of the less well-off are once again creating a two-tier society – the ‘two nations’ of the title. So it’s perfect timing for this new edition, the most comprehensively annotated one to date, with a brilliant introduction that throws fresh light on Disraeli’s political views, explains the novel’s cultural roots and defends its place as an accomplished work of fiction in its own right, aside from its value as an insightful record of Victorian England. Juanita Coulson

THE WRITER ABROAD: Literary Travels from Austria to Uzbekistan selected by Lucinda Hawksley (British Library, £12.99))
For centuries, great men and women of letters have embraced their wanderlust and penned enthralling accounts of their travels. Some remain popular classics of the genre; others, long out of print, have drifted from the public consciousness. Award- winning travel writer Lucinda Hawksley has scoured the British library’s archives to compile this beautifully produced and illustrated literary world tour. Excerpts range in date from 440 BC to AD 1986. In addition to the undoubted delights of Charles Dickens on Venice, Ian Fleming on New York and DH Lawrence on Mexico, the book is perhaps at its most surprising and interesting when the writers in question interpret a destination through the prism of their own politics, philosophy or prejudice – George Orwell reflecting on the ‘invisibility’ of human suffering in Morocco, for example. Though one or two selections are a little hard to fathom, this is a charmingly eclectic and endlessly readable volume.  Richard Tarrant


Our pick of this year’s bumper crop of gardening books. By Juanita Coulson


THE ENGLISH ROSES by David Austin (Conran Octopus, £30)
An updated and beautifully illustrated guide to more than 20 new rose varieties from the man behind the leading rose nurseries, packed with advice on how to grow and maintain them. Essential reference. Out in March

SOW HOW: A Modern guide to Grow-Your-Own Veg by Paul Matson and Lucy Anna Scott (Pavilion, £12.99)
With clear instructions and a zinging, colourful design, this great little confidence-giving book has everything you need to get started, and includes cooking suggestions. Out in March

BETH CHATTO’S SHADE GARDEN: Shade- Loving Plants for Year-Round Interest by Beth Chatto (Pimpernel Press, £30)
The influential gardener and plantswoman helps you transform those challenging light-starved spots into beautiful displays, by choosing the right plants. Out in May

RHS GARDENING FOR MINDFULNESS by Holly Farrell (Mitchell Beazley, £14.99)
Step into spring by getting your garden into shape in a contemplative way. Spring- cleaning for the mind, if you like, plus great projects, from tree planting to mindfulness- enhancing designs. Out in April

BRITAIN’S WILDFLOWERS by Rosamond Richardson (National Trust Books, £12.99)
One of the best guides to the native blooms of our hedgerows and meadows – botany meets social history as Richardson examines the myths, folklore and traditions around many species. Out in April

TOPIARY, KNOTS AND PARTERRES by Caroline Foley (Pimpernel Press, £50)
A visually stunning history of ‘green architecture’, from the topiary of patrician Rome, to Islamic gardens, Italian Renaissance parterres, Japanese minimalism and contemporary designs. Out in June

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