Friday, 09 December 2016
Book Reviews: 9 December
The Lady reviews the latest books available to buy or download now
Written by Lady Guest
OUT NOWTERMS AND CONDITIONS: Life In Girls’ Boarding Schools, 1939-1979 by Ysenda Maxtone Graham (Slightly Foxed Editions, £16)
Ysenda Maxtone Graham, alumna of the King’s school, has interviewed a host of famous women to recount the ramshackle atmosphere of girls’ boarding schools in this elegant book. Pupils ranged from aristocrats to girls whose fathers were in (whisper it) trade, daughters of the raj, and even a princess from siam. Some girls brought their ponies, one smuggled in her rabbit and increased the bunny population. There was a drunken headmistress who instructed the girls to dance with her father, who would often forget to attach his prosthetic arms.
Today, these women remain the products of their education: they sleep in freezing rooms and they associate Fridays with fish. And the author herself has a sixth sense when it comes to recognising ‘Old Girls’: their voices, an inner toughness, and the shape of their calves (because of Pe). Lessons were spent wrapped in rugs in draughty classrooms. Those with ‘rounded’ or ‘squint’ shoulders were dangled from climbing frames, and it was not unusual to have one’s front teeth knocked out during lacrosse.
Academia was shunned in favour of domesticity – for example, making a bed with ‘hospital corners’. running away was the norm, with one girl hiring a chauffeur- driven Daimler for the occasion. Another escaped to her godfather who lived at the savoy. Their stories are tinged with eccentricity and romanticism: prepare for a madcap dash to a bygone era. Lyndsy Spence
THE HUNDRED NAMES OF DARKNESS by Nilanjana Roy (Pushkin children’s Books, £7.99)
As Nilanjana Roy’s sequel to The Wildings (2012) follows on from its tumultuous and battle-scarred conclusion and begins in the winter, the reader is transported back to the Delhi dreamscapes in which the feline protagonists (Mara, Southpaw, Katar and friends) must fight for survival against a new set of predators.
But whereas The Wildings revelled in the malleable boundaries between worlds, this novel is (marginally) more conventional in its structure.
The animals of Nizamuddin district are still unable to enjoy the fruits of their labour from the first novel, warily trying to live on the streets of Delhi while the dogcatcher’s van patrols, forcing stray dogs and cats into a life of semi-permanent hiding. The bigfeet (humans) are mere standing dishes to Roy’s menagerie of characters: Doginder Singh, the critical canine friend; Jethro Tail, an amusingly named mouse; Mara, the constant from The Wildings who must steer her cohort to safety.
In short, this is a delightfully eccentric novel to be enjoyed by children and adults alike. a must for fans of Neil Gaiman, whose sandman and A Dream Of A Thousand cats are widely recognised as influences.
BOOK OF THE WEEKProspero's progress
THE POWER by Naomi Alderman (Viking, £12.99)
Alderman isn’t the kind of novelist to write the same book twice. The heroine of her prizewinning debut, disobedience, was a north London rabbi’s daughter; the figure at the centre of her most recent was Jesus himself. This book, enthusiastically championed by Margaret Atwood, is different again: a full-throttle speculative fiction in which women rule the world.
If that sounds like a recipe for global harmony and cooperation, it isn’t. The matriarchy that Alderman envisages – and which has come about as a result of women’s ability to give off violent electrical discharges – is cruel, bloody and corrupt. ‘The power’ – the name given to this new gift – leads to a struggle for female supremacy that threatens the future of the planet. it might sound bleak, and it’s true that Alderman, who is also a video games designer, doesn’t stint on the gore. but her book is also whip-smart, ferociously paced and, often, extremely funny. (The rolling news anchors who crop up at intervals throughout – and whose on-air relationship develops in a wickedly satirical way – are worth the cover price alone.)
An entertainment, then, but one whose points – about misogyny (including the internalised kind), the dangers of power and the importance of empathy – hit home.
COFFEE TABLE BOOKEdward Bawden ScrapBook by Peyton Skipwith and Brian Webb (Lund Humphries, £35)
In the early 1930s, artists Edward Bawden, John Aldridge and Eric Ravilious left London for Great Bardfield, a village located on the Suffolk-Essex border. as a result, these artists, illustrators, and fabric and wallpaper designers became what was to be called the Great Bardfield set.
A number of illustrated books on edward Bawden have already been published, and this personal scrapbook is an interesting addition. it contains his works in progress, sketches, and illustrated letters and cards from friends as well as his doodles, newspaper cuttings and a mosaic of tickets and stamps.
They offer a fascinating glimpse into the inspiration he derived from the world around him between the 1930s and 1950s.
Hugh St Clair
NOW IN NOVEMBER by Josephine Johnson, edited by Michael Schmidt (apollo, £10)
Johnson was in her early twenties when she published Now In November, her dazzling debut novel that went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1934. But sadly, her later works never lived up to her early promise, and her name slid into obscurity. This new edition of her only masterpiece is part of a new imprint by head of Zeus, dedicated to rediscovered literary gems and future classics.
The novel follows the fortunes of the Haldmarne family, starting a new life on a farm after losing everything during the Great depression. Set to the rhythm of the seasons, this tale of resilient characters in the grip of relentless, repetitive labour, and their vividly conveyed emotional worlds, is at once lyrical and grounded. a true original. Juanita Coulson
THE LONELY PLANET TRAVEL ANTHOLOGY edited by Don George (Lonely planet, £8.99)
Great travel writing can not only transport us to far-flung and exciting places, but also immerse us in the traveller’s experience and open our eyes to the transformative, at times even life- changing, power of travel.
This carefully curated anthology is just the ticket, featuring pieces by 34 writers from around the world, chronicling their globetrotting adventures.
You will be in excellent company, with the likes of novelists Alexander Mccall Smith and Ann Patchett, and travel writer Pico Iyer. From a teenager in swinging- sixties London to a first-time traveller roaming the streets of Bangkok, these are engrossing tales that are guaranteed to spark the reader’s wanderlust. JC
THE LADY’S RECIPE READSGreat ideas for festive entertaining, from moreish vintage charm to Scandi cosiness. by Juanita Coulson
GIZZI’S SEASON’S EATINGS: Feasts & Celebrations From Halloween To Happy New Year by Gizzi Erskine (Mitchell Beazley, £25)
The Tv chef and food writer brings us her seasonal recipes – and for erskine, who loves a get-together with good food, the festive season starts early, with spookily inventive halloween treats, and runs up to an indulgent new Year’s day brunch. as you’ll guess from the cover, the book has her signature ’50s-inspired vintage feel – but the recipes are contemporary and fresh. There is plentiful inspiration for easy holiday baking, convivial buffets and sparkling ideas for Christmas eve. Turkey mole enchiladas are a great way to spice up your leftovers with a warming kick. but, styled to within an inch of its life, this book might feel a tad smug for some.
SCANDIKITCHEN: Fika & Hygge by Bronte Aurell (Ryland Peters & Small, £16.99)
Aurell is the owner of a nordic café and shop in London’s West End. Her latest book rides the wave of all things Scandinavian in general and hygge in particular (that much-exploited danish cosiness vibe – you can’t open a magazine these days without bumping into its cushions, woolly socks and twinkly lights). Less well known outside Scandinavia, fika is the Swedish concept of meeting up for coffee and sweet treats – you have to love a country that has a word for that. The two go together like skyr and berries. The recipes for biscuits, pastries, cakes and breads, accented with caraway, cinnamon and lingonberries, have a relaxed but elegant festive feel. Impress your guests with your bang-on-trend baking.
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