Monday, 26 September 2016

Book Reviews: 23 September

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


Literary-LondonLITERARY LONDON by Eloise Millar and Sam Jordison (Michael O’Mara, £12.99)
The nice thing about this entertaining guide to the capital’s chroniclers is that it is organised not by region but by theme. Thus Samuel Johnson rubs shoulders with Virginia Woolf in a chapter on ‘Diarists and Lexicographers’, while ‘Immigrants and Expats’ takes in both Zadie Smith and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

There is a guide to Arthur Ransome’s Soho (the author arrived in London in 1901 aged 16, and later wrote a book about his bohemian adventures), the itinerary for a Dickensian pub crawl, and a list of venues at which to ‘eat like a spy’, most notably Scott’s of Mayfair.

‘When James bond is in London he always lunches there, at the corner table – that’s so he can look down and watch the pretty girls walking past,’ Ian Fleming once told a reporter. The authors – who are also the co-founders of Norfolk-based Galley Beggar Press – stress that this is a necessarily partial guide.

Nevertheless, with its lists of key addresses and further reading, even lifelong Londoners will find themselves making new discoveries.
Stephanie Cross

The-Mitford-FamilyTHE MITFORD FAMILY: Nearly A Thousand Years Of History by Hugh Mitford Raymond (Zymurgy Publishing, £16.99)
Hugh Mitford Raymond, a relation of the popular Mitford girls and scion of the aristocratic clan, has written his own version of the family’s story. With so many books devoted to the Mitfords, one can be forgiven for wondering if another book is necessary.

However, Mitford Raymond makes a good case with his tome, which goes beyond the girls to explore almost a thousand years of family history in neat sections devoted to each period and illustrated with photographs.

Beginning before the Norman conquest and reaching into the early years of the 21st century, his account makes it evident that the family were prominent in shaping the history of the British Isles. For centuries, English monarchs have called upon the support of the Mitfords in times of war. And across the British Empire, in Asia and Africa, the Mitfords played an important role, too.

One member would influence the creation of Israel, and another wrote an early history of South Africa. Aside from the rich genealogical research, the landscapes of the English countryside and beyond are brought to life.

Filled with anecdotes and personal stories, it is an insightful look at the rise and fall of a great family who were at the forefront of major historic events – and never cease to fascinate.
Lyndsy Spence


EstuaryRiver of time 
ESTUARY: Out From London To The Sea by Rachel Lichtenstein (Hamish Hamilton, £18.99)
Rachel Lichtenstein’s previous subjects have included London’s Brick Lane and Hatton Garden. This time it is not bricks and mortar but an altogether more elusive combination of sands and tides that is her focus: the Thames Estuary.

Composed of a series of voyages and encounters, Lichtenstein’s engrossing study brings her into contact with the sometimes murky history of these unquiet waters. She investigates the ‘Doomsday Ship’ – a wartime wreck subject to a round-the-clock guard due to the 1,445 tons of explosives that remain on board – and walks ‘Britain’s most dangerous path’, the Broomway off Foulness Island.

A night spent moored by Southend pier is disturbed by harrowing and seemingly inexplicable cries. But this is a book about people as much as places: the sailors, fishermen, artists and eccentrics who live near, work on, and are inspired by this section of the Thames. Many are men but Lichtenstein makes a point of seeking out the estuary’s female voices too: the testimony of Jane Dolby, who founded the Fishwives Choir after her fisherman husband drowned, is particularly affecting.

The estuary, Lichtenstein concludes, is an ‘indefinable and beautiful place where past flows into present into past in its eternal rhythm’. In this immersive account, she does it evocative justice. SC


KENNETH ARMITAGE SCULPTOR: A centenary celebration by Ann Elliott, Tamsyn Woollcombe and Jon Wood (Sansom & company, £25:

People-in-the-WindPeople in the wind

This ravishingly illustrated book celebrates the centenary of the birth of British artist Kenneth Armitage, who throughout his life was obsessed with sculpting the human figure. His early work attracted critical acclaim, including People In The Wind (1950) and Walking Group (1951). He was shown in the Venice Biennale of 1958, alongside Eduardo Paolozzi and Lynn Chadwick – they became known as the ‘Geometry of Fear School’ owing to their use of jagged, angular metal forms. The accompanying essays give a privileged glimpse into his working methods and colourful private life. Ruggedly handsome, shy and intense, armitage had no shortage of admirers. A must for art lovers. Rebecca Wallersteiner


WeatherlandWEATHERLAND: Writers And Artists Under English Skies by Alexandra Harris (Thames & Hudson, £9.99)
In her beautifully written, incisive and wide-ranging study of the shifting perceptions of the weather in English arts, academic Alexandra Harris blazes a bright trail through centuries of literary and cultural history, shedding new light on classic works and highlighting lesser-known gems.

From the frost-bound solitude of old english poems like The Seafarer, through chaucer’s springtime showers and songbirds, to the first empirical attempts of Francis Bacon, Turner’s cloudscapes, Dr Johnson’s barometer and the biblical flood in medieval plays that are still performed today, Harris steers us through our cultural heritage wearing her impressive learning lightly.

But she also goes beyond the ‘writers and artists’ of the title to give glimpses of meteorology, science, material culture and everyday life, seen through the prism of the elements. A breath- taking tour de force that is at once erudite, accessible and just as engrossing as our national obsession with the weather.
Juanita Coulson

NEW GRUB STREET by George Gissing, edited by Katherine Mullin (Oxford World’s classics, £9.99)New-Grub-Street
Gissing’s most acclaimed novel, first published in 1891, chronicles the lives of journalists, novelists and academics in late 19th-century England – its title referring to the London street that became a byword for hack writing.

Nervous scholar and serious novelist Edwin Reardon is pitted against cynical journalist Jasper Milvain. Despite early promise, Reardon’s career never really takes off, and his marriage crumbles under the weight of disappointment. Through the pair’s story, Gissing takes the temperature of literary and cultural Britain during a period of crisis.

This is the first new edition to appear in 20 years, with Mullin’s insightful introduction and explanatory notes shedding fresh light on this fascinating, autobiographical work. A period piece with poignant resonances for today, particularly in the tension between literary merit and commercial success.


From tinned staples to fresh herbs, two books on how to make the most of essential ingredients. By Juanita Coulson

HERBARIUM by Caz Hildebrand (Thames & Hudson, £16.95)
‘We’re missing out on herbs if we don’t appreciate their multi- dimensional personalities,’ writes Hildebrand in her comprehensive and elegantly designed compendium on the subject. Books of herbs, describing their culinary and medical properties, go back to the Classical world. Herbarium draws on this tradition but gives it a thoroughly modern twist. Each entry has the perfect blend of history, science and practical advice, and is accompanied by vibrant illustrations. The everyday herbarium section includes some delectable cocktail suggestions. More a reference book than a cookbook, it is nevertheless a valuable and exquisite volume. Every kitchen should have one.

THE KITCHEN SHELF by Rosie Reynolds and Eve O’Sullivan (Phaidon Press, £24.95)
Cook and food stylist Reynolds and cookery writer o’sullivan team up to take the angst out of the daily ‘what to make for supper?’ challenge. a cleverly stocked cupboard, they argue in their stylish and practical book, means you’ll always be able to rustle up something delicious at the drop of a hat. Their list of 30 staple ingredients includes ‘key essentials’ such as a tin of chick peas, a bag of rice and (predictably, these days), a tin of coconut milk. The recipes are fresh and innovative, with healthy options such as Mexican chicken, chick pea and rice bowls, or sweet treats such as toasted marshmallow, chocolate and raspberry teacakes. Packed with wise tips for efficient shopping and cooking.

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