Book Reviews: 7-20 February 2020

OUT NOW

So It Goes: Travels in the Aran Isles, Xian and Places in Between by Nicolas Bouvier, translated by Robyn Marsack (Eland, £14.99)
Pour yourself a whisky and settle down to read this lyrically written, evocative collection of travel stories which transport us to the Aran Isles in mid-winter, lowland Scotland, the city of Xian in central China and Switzerland In the misty Aran Isles, where the air ‘unites the virtues of champagne, cocaine, caffeine, and the ecstasy of love’, Nicolas Bouvier is moved by the beauty of Celtic crosses, the broody, windswept landscape scattered with lonely hermitages of seventh-century saints and local stories about the supernatural. As he writes: ‘Obviously in that extreme weather and with a fever, when someone is constantly telling you stories about fairies you are more likely to believe in them than if you are in good health, with a pastis in front of you in Aix-les-Bains.’ I enjoyed the chapters about the Aran Isles most. In spring, Aran ‘has thirty-five varieties of orchid and wild anemone’. But for Bouvier ‘it was a hundred times more beautiful in the sheer wildness of the winter storms.’ Written with a poet’s sensitivity and eye for detail, bordering on the mystical, it made me long for the  smell of rotting seaweed and peaty whisky, and the feel of wind on my face.  Ideal fireside reading for anyone who enjoys vicarious travelling.
Rebecca Wallersteiner

CLICK TO BUY

The Mystery of Love: Constance and Oscar, the Story of a Marriage by Andrew Meehan (Apollo, £18.99)
Reimagining what goes on behind closed doors, especially in a marriage, is a risky business. Perhaps only the boldest of authors should attempt it. Here, Andrew Meehan recreates the complex relationship and marriage between Oscar Wilde and his wife Constance – with only partial success.  Spread over five chapters, the story is mainly told from the viewpoint of Constance, now estranged from her husband, who languishes in jail following his scandalous fall from grace. Moving to Italy, Constance tries to escape London society’s toxic tongue-wagging in an attempt to mend her emotional scars.  Imagining what each of the protagonists must be feeling and thinking, Meehan traces the inner worlds of his characters, creating an overview of their marriage, complete with interjections
from Wilde himself in the footnotes.  Although imaginative and witty in places, much of the prose is stilted, especially when the author tries to recreate the language the couple might have used to communicate while also giving voice to their thoughts. ‘I can’t deny that my gaze moved from torso to torso, the angelic bodies and hard faces,’ Oscar muses at a party.  The couple’s love-making is described as ‘not magical at all but tepid’.  Despite its flaws, this is a book that will appeal to dedicated Wilde enthusiasts.  
Elizabeth Fitzherbert

CLICK TO BUY

PICK OF THE PAPERBACKS 

Fugitive 13 by Rob Sinclair (Orion, £7.99)
This suspense-packed thriller follows the adventure of Aydin Torkal, otherwise known as Sleeper 13. He is on the run, hiding from a group of insurgents he has betrayed and the elite intelligence agencies that have shaped his working life. The only one who believes in him is Rachel Cox, who works for MI6. As their paths intertwine, both question everything they know: their families, their colleagues and even each other. This nail-biting tale is part of a trilogy, and while it would help to have read the previous instalment, it does stand up well in its own right. After Sinclair’s triumphant Sleeper 13, this certainly does not disappoint.
Helena Gumley-Mason

CLICK TO BUY

The StationEry Shop of Tehran by Marjan Kamali (Simon & Schuster, £8.99)
For those who don’t know much about Iran’s politics, traditions or life in general before and after the revolution, this book will pique your interest with exotic descriptions (including detailed references to Persian cuisine) and vivid characterisations. Bookish schoolgirl Roya meets and falls in love with political firebrand Bahman in a quaint stationery shop stocked with Iranian and foreign books. But a coup d’etat on the eve of their wedding plunges the country into instability. Bahman disappears, leaving Roya heartbroken. Fast-forward 50 years and fate throws them together again. Kamali has crafted a sweeping love story that beautifully captures the nuances of Iranian culture and history.
Elizabeth Fitzherbert

CLICK TO BUY

WHITE HOT SILENCE by Henry Porter (Quercus, £7.99)
Migrants, kidnaps, blackmail and money laundering form the backdrop of this topical and timely political thriller. When aid worker Anastasia is snatched at gunpoint in Calabria, it unleashes a pandora’s box of complexities involving her billionaire husband, Dennis Hisami, and her ex-lover Paul, an MI6 operative and restaurateur. The story follows the unravelling of Hisami’s finances and terrorist past, alongside adaring high-stakes rescue mission. Weaving together power play, passion and espionage in the world of charitable foundations and war zones, this is a convincing narrative full of tension and menace.
EF 

CLICK TO BUY


OUR TOP PICK

MEET ME IN BUENOS AIRES by Marlene Hobsbawm (Muswell Press, £12.99)
‘Behind every great man is a great woman’ is a phrase that seems tailor-made for the acclaimed historian Eric Hobsbawm, especially after reading his widow’s engaging memoir. As I followed Marlene Hobsbawm’s account of her itinerant life as ‘wife of’, I couldn’t help wondering: who would she be if she weren’t constantly running around after Eric? So I did cheer in the chapters that recount her late-blossoming career as an amateur musician, teacher and author. 
Arriving in Britain as an orphaned Jewish émigré, Eric went on to become a famous Marxist historian, and something of a global celebrity. Would he have done so without the unswerving support of his wife? He had been alone for 10 years after a failed first marriage and a breakdown before meeting Marlene – their union seems to have turned his life around. The family home she kept became the launch pad from which he pursued his stellar career. Upbeat and self-mocking, Marlene evokes a household full of music, books, children and glittering dinner parties. 
She is an astute observer of her surroundings, whether the buzzing international community in mid-century Rome where she worked for the UN in her twenties, or the social whirl of London. Though clearly devoted to Eric, she emerges as a strong character in her own right. And if you’re as intrigued as I was by the exotic promise of the book’s title… well, you’ll just have to read on.
Juanita Coulson

CLICK TO BUY

COFFEE TABLE BOOK

Henri Cartier-Bresson: China 1948-1949, 1958 by Michel Frizot and Ying-lung Su (Thames & Hudson, £50)
Capturing a country on the cusp of change, these searing images taken by French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson helped establish his career as a photojournalist. Travelling to China in December 1948 at the request of the Magnum agency, Cartier-Bresson spent ten months photographing what he saw – including the end of the Kuomintang and the Communist takeover. ‘Personally, I am interested almost exclusively in human beings,’ he once said, and these images reflect his passion. Whether a lone figure walking in the Forbidden City, people sandwiched together like sardines during the Shanghai gold rush or beggars in the streets, the pictures convey the exuberance of an ancient land in snapshots of a bygone age.
EF

CLICK TO BUY

ALSO ON THE SHELF

THE BOY, THE MOLE, THE FOX AND THE HORSE by Charlie Mackesy (Penguin, £16.99)
This book, whose enchanting illustrations, adorable calligraphy and heart-warming exchanges between boy and animals have gone viral, is proof that not everything doing the rounds on social media is toxic waste. A rare gem among the rubble. 
JC

CLICK TO BUY

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.lady.co.uk/sites/default/files/styles/facebook_teaser/public/featured-images/coverphoto_0.jpg?itok=OnnjoDP_&c=c735e249542058dd7f3187564c3be2aa