Friday, 07 October 2016
Book Reviews: 7 October
The Lady reviews of the latest books to download now
Written by Lady Guest
OUT NOWTHE WONDER by Emma Donoghue (Picador, £14.99)
When Lib Wright, a young English nurse trained by Florence Nightingale herself, arrives in rural Ireland, she has no knowledge of the extraordinary case that awaits her. An 11-year-old girl, the beloved child of a devout Catholic family, is said to have been living on air alone, sustained only by the Lord. Now the local community is determined either to expose a fraud or confirm a miracle, and it is Lib’s job to watch over little Anna O’Donnell until the facts are established.
Intrigue abounds: who is behind the hoax, what are their motives and how is the trick managed? But only slowly does the terrible realisation dawn: a young girl is purposefully starving herself to death even as she is being hailed a wonder. As Nurse Wright’s prejudices and certainties crumble, we realise the irony of her name – and that she herself may be harbouring secrets. But as the truth at the heart of the case begins to emerge, what seems like a simple, if potentially fatal, contest of faith versus reasonis revealed as something far darker.
Emma Donoghue is best known for the booker-nominated room, and its award-winning film adaptation. This expertly crafted, sympathetically imagined novel deserves similar success – at times harrowing, it gathers tremendous momentum and Donoghue’s conclusion is resoundingly satisfying.
FEN by Daisy Johnson (Jonathan Cape, £12.99)
Dark magical realism meets incisive social critique and deep-sea psychological diving in this arresting short- story collection, set entirely in East Anglia’s Fenland. The quality of the landscape is an integral part of the narrative: drained land, made inhabitable only by human artifice, the implicit threat of flood ever-present and only kept at bay by sheer enterprise and effort, much like the other dark forces at play in the stories.
This imperfect balance of destruction and survival is palpable from the opening tale, where eels caught by workmen while draining the fens starve themselves in protest. The interplay of eating, starving and transformation is another spine-chilling theme: a teenage girl starves herself as part of her slow metamorphosis into a fish; maenad-like women feast on their lovers; foxes and sea birds carry the souls of the dead. But it is not so much the uncanny itself that pulls the punches in these exquisitely crafted tales, each sentence dripping with the richness and originality of the language. It is rather the startling juxtaposition of the unearthly and the everyday: the man- eaters paint their nails; the girl-fish plays truant from school.
Atmosphere is the driving force in these stories, imbued with the damp, liminal qualities of their setting, and expressed through sensual, elemental descriptions of land, water and skies. The occasional weakness is one of excess: one too many verbalised nouns; a gory scene of animal cruelty that adds nothing but revulsion. But these are minor flaws in an otherwise outstanding and unforgettable debut. J
BOOK OF THE WEEKProspero's progress
HAG-SEED by Margaret Atwood (Random House, £16.99)
Atwood’s superlative retelling of the tempest owes as much to Machiavelli as to Shakespeare. It is another outstanding contribution to the Hogarth Shakespeare series, for which leading contemporary authors have been commissioned to write novels based on the Bard’s plays.
Maverick theatre director Felix is dethroned by his obsequious right-hand man, Tony, who stages a coup to take control of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. After 12 years in a hermitage, pining for his lost daughter Miranda, pondering his predicament and plotting revenge, Felix returns to the fray under the pseudonym of Mr Duke, teaching a theatre course for prison inmates. Having tracked tony down, Felix is aware of his rise to power in local politics. Tony’s impending visit to the prison where Felix teaches provides the ideal opportunity for revenge. In a wonderfully bard-like play-within-a-play, Felix puts on his own version of The Tempest in a bid to embroil tony in a real-life drama worthy of the stage.
With a motley crew of inmates, a creative lexicon of Shakespearean-style oaths and the mischievous antics of a modern-day Ariel, this reimagining of the tempest imbues the spirit of the original with an energetic and poetic transformation. A thoroughly engrossing take on a timeless classic.
COFFEE TABLE BOOKUNDRESSED: A Brief History Of Underwear by Edwina Ehrman (V&A Publishing, £10)
Accompanying the Victoria & Albert Museum’s exhibition, this book celebrates the intimate connection between fashion and underwear. ‘Worn next to the skin and usually hidden, even the most practical of garments are intrinsically erotic,’ writes fashion historian Edwina Ehrman.
Modern sports bras and pyjamas sit alongside Queen Victoria’s mother’s pantaloons, 1940s ‘bullet’ bras, Mary Quant’s 1960s body stocking and Kate Moss’s sheer slip by Liza Bruce. Until the 1920s, nearly all women wore corsets to create a nipped-in waist. Once everyday, they are now infused with erotic potential. The crinoline, which accentuated women’s hips and caused fires galore, hasn’t enjoyed a similar comeback. With gorgeous images of the exhibits, this is a saucy feast for fashion lovers.
DON'T LET MY BABY DO RODEO by Boris Fishman (Pushkin, £12.99)
Despite their fear that ‘adopted children are second class’, childless, middle-class, American-Jewish couple Maya and Alex Rubin adopt a boy from a teenage mother in Montana, who leaves him with the cryptic plea ‘don’t let my baby do rodeo’. Nervy Maya adores blond Max, who turns feral: eating grass, talking to animals and running away. Her fearful, superstitious Belarusian in-laws roll their eyes. Puzzled by the wayward child’s weird and wild behaviour, Maya convinces Alex to drive to Montana to explore Max’s roots. Although the central characters are Jewish stereotypes, this engaging, tender novel explores universal questions of relationships, belonging, inheritance and the mystery of just who we are. Highly recommended. Rebecca Wallersteiner
LEGACY by Hannah Fielding (London Wall, £7.99)
Luna Ward, a beautiful but troubled science journalist from New York, is sent to work undercover at an alternative health clinic in Cádiz in the sizzling final instalment of Fielding’s Andalucian Nights Trilogy. Handsome Spanish doctor Ruy, the subject of her investigation, becomes intent on persuading her that alternative medicine works – and that he is the man for her. Legacy is filled to the brim with family scandal, frustrated love and hidden secrets. Ruy is the ideal love interest, exuding both charm and intelligence, and Luna fits the part of innocent and fragile heroine perfectly. Fast- paced and addictive, it will keep you hooked from start to finish. Rebecca Maxted
THE LADY’S RECIPE READSThis week we celebrate edible art – from haute chocolaterie to Salvador Dalí’s surreal dinners. By Juanita coulson
PIERRE HERME: CHOCOLATE by Pierre Hermé and Sergio Coimbra (Flammarion, £40)
The French patissier known as ‘The Picasso of Pastry’ has produced a visual and gustatory ode to his favourite ingredient. He describes chocolate as ‘capricious. Honourable. Obscure’, and refers to his creations as ‘an encounter between sculpture and flavour’. Grouped in intriguingly titled chapters (architectures, voluptuous, euphoric), the recipes run the chocophile gamut: from the perfect éclair to a Proustian Madeleine, a dreamy coupe glacée, intense ganache bars and poetically named truffles. Often requiring intricate preparation, they are perhaps best for the accomplished cook. But the book itself, with coimbra’s dramatically lit photos, is a pleasure in its own right.
DALI: LES DINERS DE GALA by Salvador Dalí (Taschen, £44.99)
Best known for arresting images of melting clocks and loaves of bread doing unspeakable things to each other, surrealist painter Salvador Dalí was also a consummate dinner party host. The epic dinner parties he threw with his wife and muse Gala form the basis for this opulent, quirky and decidedly sui generis cookbook. It was first published in 1973, and this luxurious reprint features all 136 original recipes, illustrations by the artist and his deliciously offbeat pensées. Rich and unashamedly showy, the old-school French recipes vary in difficulty but can be replicated at home: bush of crayfish with Viking herbs; a down-to- earth roast side of beef and vegetables; an indulgent toffee with pine cones. Exquisite eccentricity.
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