Friday, 21 October 2016

Book Reviews: 21 October

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


The-Map-and-the-ClockTHE MAP AND THE CLOCK: A Laureate’s Choice Of The Poetry Of Britain And Ireland, edited by Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke (Faber & Faber, £20)
In this new anthology, the Poet Laureate joins forces with the National Poet of Wales to showcase the poetic heritage of Ireland, Scotland and Wales as well as England, reshaping a canon usually dominated by English writing – an exciting prospect.

I liked Duffy’s metaphor of the map and clock, used ‘to travel, and time-travel, these islands’ in search of diverse voices, past and present. In her sadly too brief preface, Duffy indicates they will not be used ‘to assert or reflect a British or Irish canon, but rather… to tour and celebrate the music, accents, surprises, variousnesses and fierce independence of poets’.

Given this statement, it seems a shame that little is said of the languages from which some poems are translated (Anglo-Saxon, Welsh, Gaelic), rendering them invisible. Starting with the Anglo-Saxon Caedmon’s Hymn and ending with contemporary Anglo-Asian poet Zaffar Kunial, the book is divided into chronological-thematic sections, each marked by a quote in beautiful calligraphy. But these boundaries are porous: some poems and poets straddle them. And like any anthology, the omissions are as telling as the inclusions: only one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, none of Keats’s odes.

Still, my quibbles perhaps miss the point: this is a thoughtfully researched and elegantly produced book, full of undiscovered gems. It is a popular, rather than an academic, anthology. Any attempt to bring the variety and beauty of our islands’ poetry to a wider audience is to be unreservedly celebrated.
Juanita Coulson

The-Secret-Lives-of-ColourTHE SECRET LIVES OF COLOUR by Kassia St Clair (John Murray, £20)
This inspiring compendium of colour history will appeal to anyone with even the vaguest interest in different hues and dyes.

Presented in concise chapters, the book is a cross between a potted history and character study of 75 shades that have intrigued the author the most: ‘it is not intended to be an exhaustive history,’ she writes. Every colour has a story, from rarer shades such as gamboge and amaranth to the more common ones like emerald green and violet.

Quirky facts abound, for example, the English chemist William Perkin accidentally stumbled across the synthetic purple dye mauveine (aka aniline purple) while working on a cure for malaria in 1856. There is an explanation of how ‘acid yellow’ assimilated itself with rave culture, and why the name for the colour orange only emerged in the 16th century.

Beautifully designed, the book is illuminated by colour, while a few helpful chapters shed light on colour theory and the science of how we see. A compelling study to dip into at random or read at leisure.
Elizabeth Fitzherbert


The-MarchesWalking the borders

THE MARCHES: A Borderland Journey Between England And Scotland by Rory Stewart (Jonathan Cape, £18.99)
Rory Stewart’s admirers will want to read anything he writes – even when the subject matter seems unappealing. On this occasion it’s a 600-mile journey on foot along the Scottish Marches, the frontier between england and Scotland. The author, MP for Penrith in Cumbria, undertakes it mostly alone and occasionally in the company of his 90-year-old father, Brian, who was 50 when Rory was born.

Taking their own Scottish heritage and the then-forthcoming Scottish referendum as starting points, Stewart performs his usual magic. We use Stewart as a Trojan horse to gain access to the lives of people we would not otherwise encounter. Meanwhile, he also makes fluent and intelligible what might otherwise be dull geological and historical data. All this accomplishment takes place against a bittersweet backdrop, as Stewart’s father ‘goes on ahead’ in the last pages. Stewart buries him on their estate near crieff in Perthshire.

Rarely has a father and son relationship seemed so enviable – each has so much to give the other. Stewart’s descriptions are moving yet never mawkish. This writer refreshes the parts that other writers cannot reach: he has the stamina and interest to investigate the hidden ‘glamour’ behind regions and peoples with unpromising veneers.
Mary Killen


YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION: Records And Rebels 1966-1970, edited by Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh (V&A Publishing, £40)
In the late 1960s, revolution was in the air. Accompanying the exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, this gorgeously illustrated book looks at the ‘seismic political, cultural and social changes of the era’, writes Martin Roth, the museum’s director, in his foreword.


Essays by various authors explore the social upheavals including civil rights, hippies, feminism, consumerism and Paris 1968. The era offered fun fashions: Mary Quant, Ossie Clark and Twiggy, and catchy music: sergeant Pepper, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and David Bowie, while films such as Blow-Up (1966) captured the essence of Swinging London. The rebellion, ideas and optimism that rocked the age have shaped the world we live in today. An entertaining read – although it covers little new ground.
Rebecca Wallersteiner


FINE, FINE, FINE, FINE, FINE by Diane Williams (CB Editions, £8.99)
According to the critic Sir Frank Kermode, Williams’s work ‘is not for first reading but for periodic immersions in a world perfectly real but strange’.

Hers are stories to approach with care: they may be ultra- short but, with their habit of ambushing the reader, they require slow processing. The Great Passion and its context manages to evoke an entire life in a page, the thoughts of its narrator spooling out like the scenery that’s glimpsed through the window of her train.

The Mermaid Pose begins with a mother and child in a park, but ends soon after (and brilliantly) with an ageing woman’s sponge bath: ‘I’ve done nothing to hide the ugliness of my elderly body. And let others regret that my character has no allure, because I am worn out with that also.’ Like poems, the stories’ trajectories are dreamlike, their mysteries given up gradually, if at all. Stephanie Cross

THE LEARN: A Novel by Tony Halker (Clink Street Publishing, £8.99)
Drawing on a mixture of legend and fact, halker transports us to a mystical, reimagined Bronze Age in North Wales, where a group of young trainee priests and ‘druidii’ attempt to follow the way of ‘the Learn’.

The world of the ancient celts is beautifully depicted, and the novel explores the struggles its young people faced – from the limitations of an oral society to the endless battle against the elements. Although vividly evocative of a period rarely examined in fiction, it does take a little while for the reader to ease in. It is worth persevering, though – and the list of characters is a godsend. Helena Gumley- Mason


Go east: authentic and delicious chinese recipes that are a far cry from your local takeaway. by Juanita Coulson


CHINA: The Cookbook by Kei Lum Chan and Diora Fong Chan (Phaidon, £29.95)
The latest in Phaidon’s national cuisines series explores the history and recipes of one of the world’s oldest, richest and most exported culinary traditions. There are over 650 authentic and easy-to-follow recipes, many with a few words on the dish’s history, and the photography is vibrant and attractive. Over 30 regions and sub-regions are represented in this volume, showcasing a diversity that is not often obvious to Western eyes and taste buds. From a simple chicken in black bean sauce to the imperial Yangzhou fried rice, which dates back to the 6th-century court of emperor Yang, there is something for everyone, and an abundance of fascinating facts, too.

LAND OF FISH AND RICE: Recipes From The Culinary Heart of China by Fuchsia Dunlop (Bloomsbury, £26)
With a narrower geographical focus but thorough and passionate, this is a love letter to the food of the lower Yangtze region and its modern capital, Shanghai. The author has drawn on years of study and travel to produce more than a cookbook: a portrait of the region, its history and people. It is a delicate cuisine based on a deep respect for local produce, where seasonings are chosen to ‘frame the quiet beauty of the ingredients’. Rice and fish are staples, but ‘an appreciation of vegetables flows through the region’: ancient, native ones like lotus root, or later imports like tomatoes, known as ‘barbarian’s aubergine’. Standout dishes include ningbo omelette with dried shrimps and chinese chives.

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