Friday, 12 May 2017

Book Reviews: 12 May

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

OUT NOW

FOR A LITTLE WHILE by Rick Bass (Pushkin Press, £20) for-a-little-while
American writer and environmentalist Rick Bass is an acclaimed master of the short story: his writing captures human experiences, inextricably linked to the landscape, with an intensity and clarity that can by turns frighten, delight and amaze. His stories have appeared in the likes of The New yorker and The Atlantic, but are somehow, inexplicably, less well known on this side of the pond.

Collected in this volume for the first time are stories spanning 30 years of Bass’s career, including seven new ones. The thoughtful lyricism of his prose brings to life instances of shattering emotion, sweeping descriptions of woodland, rivers and plains, the unseen undersides of everyday life. In Wild Horses, a woman and her drowned partner’s friend are united by their loss. Domestic detail is always telling: as grief begins to loosen its numbing grip on the characters, and an undercurrent of mutual desire nears the surface, ‘beads of condensation’ slide down a pitcher, ‘rolling slowly, then quickly, like tears’.

In Fires, a chance friendship between a lonely bachelor living in a remote valley and Glenda, a visiting runner with ‘lake-blue eyes’, takes on an unexpected emotional charge. It is set in a richly evoked rural landscape, where rabbits hop ‘through sun-filled woods and over rotting logs, following centuries- old game trails of black earth’.

Bass’s characters are injured, scarred, reticent, their frailties and strengths and the immediacy of their experiences caught and preserved in the amber of his compassionate narrative voice. These are arresting, unforgettable stories that will shake you to the core.
Juanita Coulson



the-kingdom-of-womenTHE KINGDOM OF WOMEN: Life, Love and Death in China’s Hidden Mountains by Choo Waihong (IB Tauris, £17.99)
One sunday afternoon, Choo Waihong, a high-powered lawyer in a male-driven world, begins her day at the office. This has been her routine for decades, navigating her way through the old boys’ club and spending her salary on a luxurious home, city breaks, and eating at fancy restaurants. On this particular afternoon, she decides to give it all up for an uncertain future.

Fascinated with her Chinese ancestry, she learns of the Mosuo tribe, who live at Lugu lake, in what is known as the Kingdom of Women. Written as a memoir in a straightforward style, her book presents an insight into this rare and almost lost way of life, where every decision is made by women and men play a secondary role – otherwise unheard of in China’s patriarchal society. While the tribe struggles to survive, the author weighs up her priorities. An inspiring portrait of a hidden world and what is possible when one has an open mind.
Lyndsy Spence













BOOK OF THE WEEK

Physician, know thyselfadmissions

ADMISSIONS by Henry Marsh (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £16.99)
This is neurosurgeon Henry Marsh’s second volume of memoirs: his first, Do No Harm, was acclaimed by Ian McEwan and proved an international bestseller. The reason for Marsh’s success – besides the precision and elegance of his prose – is surely down to the fact that he grapples with matters of life, death and consciousness on a daily basis. And in a world where plain speaking is increasingly rare, Marsh tells it like it is.

Thus admissions opens with the author contemplating in mostly – but not entirely – joking fashion his own private ‘suicide kit’. In his mid-60s and with the spectre of his late father’s dementia hovering, Marsh feels that it is better to leave both his profession and life itself too soon rather than too late. But how to know when the time has come?

As he mulls over his future, he reflects on episodes from his 40-year career. These include stints in Nepal, where average incomes are 40 times less than in Britain, and a visit to the Texas Medical Centre, which comprises 51 clinical institutions, 8,000 hospital beds, and occupies more than a square mile.

At times harrowing, Marsh’s commitment to truth-telling makes this a genuinely humbling as well as fascinating read. And, like Do No Harm, it leaves a deep and permanent impression.
Stephanie Cross




COFFEE TABLE BOOK

AT HOME WITH PLANTS by Ian Drummond and Kara O’Reilly (Mitchell Beazley, £20)
Having fallen out of fashion in the 1990s, houseplants are experiencing a revival. This exquisitely illustrated book by RHS Chelsea Flower show gold medallist Ian Drummond and interiors writer Kara O’Reilly is an inspiration. It offers practical guidance on sourcing, choosing and caring for plants, and demonstrates how to incorporate foliage and colour into every room, creating beautiful displays.

skulls

Scent, edibility and hardiness are all covered, and we learn how plants can enhance our mood and health. There is advice on involving children and teenagers in their own projects, and suggestions for students in university accommodation. With innovative ideas to suit a variety of lifestyles and locations, this horticultural treat is a comprehensive companion for those wishing to enjoy the beauty and benefits of a garden indoors.
Patricia Merrick

PAPERBACKS

PAPERBACKS

THE PRISONER’S DEFENCE, AND OTHER FIRST WORLD WAR STORIES selected by Ann-Marie Einhaus (British Library Publishing, £5)
The short story and the fiction magazine, enjoying something of a heyday in the early decades of the 20th century, found rich subject matter in the Great War. Continuing its very welcome literary treasure hunt, British Library Publishing has uncovered from its archives a fine selection of largely forgotten tales – some derring-do, government-sanctioned propaganda by the likes of arthur Conan Doyle; others surprisingly critical, early indictments of censorship and the dehumanising nature and futility of the conflict. It would have been interesting to see one or two German stories included, but otherwise this is an insightful and imaginative collection. Richard Tarrant

EARTH AND HIGH HEAVEN by Gwethalyn Graham (Persephone Books, £13)
The Canadian writer published this captivating, semi- autobiographical novel aged 31, in 1944, and it won the prestigious Governor-General’s award. Set during the Second World War, it tells the story of Erica Drake, a young Protestant woman falling in love with Marc Reiser, a small-town Jewish lawyer, despite her wealthy father’s virulent hostility and antisemitism. ‘One of the questions they were sometimes asked was when and how they had met,’ writes Graham in the opening sentence, hooking the reader, who is kept guessing as to whether these two people from such different worlds will make it together until the end. This is a sparkling, harrowing and emotionally intense read about the unfathomable mysteries of the human heart, with insight into the challenges faced by Jews in the period. It makes you feel glad times have changed. Rebecca Wallersteiner


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