Friday, 06 January 2017
Book Reviews: 6 January
The Lady reviews the latest books available to buy or download now
OUT NOWSchool of Velocity by Beck Rubin (One, £12.99)
Set in 1960s Holland, cultural historian Rubin’s Taut debut novel is an insightful look at the attraction of opposites and how time affects relationships.
At its centre is the friendship between sensitive, musical Jan de Vries and daredevil Dirk Noosen, ‘a storm cloud of dark, wavy hair’, who regularly courts danger and playfully steals Jan’s first girlfriend. But even this doesn’t derail the boys’ blossoming friendship.
After high school they go their separate ways and lose touch. Dedicated Jan becomes a virtuoso pianist, but in the prime of his career his performances are sabotaged by nightmarish auditory hallucinations that threaten to wreck his life. As he struggles to cope with the unwanted music echoing in his head and an obsessive flood of childhood memories, Jan decides to head home and look for Dirk.
I found the ending a little predictable, having encountered many ‘Dirks’ in real life – charismatic and self- destructive.
But this is an enthralling novel about the unfathomable mysteries of the human heart and brain. It explores the many strange ways in which our early friendships influence and sometimes haunt the rest of our lives. Simply and elegantly written, the tension in the gripping narrative builds like a symphony.
TIPPI: A MEMOIR by Tippi Hedren (William Morrow, £20)
Best known for her onscreen persona as a Hitchcock blonde, American actress Tippi Hedren was the only one to be directed by both Alfred Hitchcock and Charlie Chaplin.
Her memoir provides an insightful look into the machinations of old-school Hollywood: she is now 86 and her reminiscences highlight a bygone age when the studio system ruled supreme and terms such as sexual harassment and stalking simply didn’t exist.
From small-town Minnesota to leading lady in classic films like The Birds and Marnie, she also discusses her animal rights activism, her family and other passions.
Hedren writes candidly and without restraint. A model with no acting experience, she was signed up by Hitchcock before meeting him in person. She describes the iconic director as ‘remarkably unattractive’ on their first encounter, and documents his often bizarre, controlling behaviour with gusto.
Hitchcock’s compulsive inclinations resulted in a lifelong obsession with the actress, during which he tried to ruin her career. There are lurid tales of unwanted advances, jealous tantrums, menacing behaviour and stalking. ‘I became skilled at getting out of being alone with him unless it was absolutely unavoidable,’ she writes. Even so, she still manages to smile, and looks back on her life with grace, her indomitable spirit shining through.
Intriguing as it is extraordinary, Tippi Hedren’s story deserves to be read.
BOOK OF THE WEEKGowns and garden sheds
INSIDE VOGUE: A Diary Of My 100th Year by Alexandra Shulman (Fig Tree, £16.99)
Pack up your preconceptions: this engaging memoir bursts through the myths and clichés about magazine editors in a whirl of high fashion, domestic disasters and emotional honesty. At the helm of British Vogue for 24 years, Shulman kept a diary in the magazine’s centenary year, running the iconic title while planning a string of high-profile events.
Her stamina and dedication are striking: one look at her schedule makes you want to lie down. Although she admits to ‘self-obsession’, her warmth and compassion come through. One minute she is meeting Karl Lagerfeld, the next she’s fighting an uncooperative boiler or cooking chicken suppers for her son.
A tireless campaigner for realistic portrayals of women’s bodies, her frustration is palpable when certain brands refuse to loan larger-sized samples for ‘real women’ features. Reading her dispatches from the heart of London’s fashion and cultural life is a vicarious pleasure, but she also has the mot juste on other topics, from ‘ghastly Brexit’ to garden sheds. All this is tempered with glimpses of vulnerability: performance-anxiety nightmares, weight worries and the stresses of balancing career and family are unflinchingly described. An irresistible snapshot of Planet Fashion from one of its leading players, but one whose designer-clad feet are firmly on the ground.
COFFEE TABLE BOOKABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM edited by David Anfam (Royal Academy of Arts, £40)
Abstract Expressionism rocked America in the aftermath of the Second World War: it embodied the freedom, confidence and frenetic creative energy of 1950s New York with its jazz dives, cafes and Beat poetry. Accompanying the Royal Academy’s exhibition, with essays by various authors, the book explores the work of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning, amongst others, who broke from convention, shocking the art world with their monumental, raw paintings.
The movement’s leader was Pollock, whose genius was recognised by art collector Peggy Guggenheim. His breakthrough 1943 mural for Peggy’s Manhattan townhouse was created by hurling vast quantities of paint onto the canvas. A must for art lovers.
THE LAST DEBUTANTE by Lesley Lokko (Orion, £14.99)
It is the summer of 1936 and changes are afoot at Chalfont Hall. Young Kit watches as her older sister, Lily, gets ready to be presented at court. Caught up in the madness of dress fittings, party preparation and introductions to eligible young men, Kit must learn to keep her eyes and ears open. The arrival of a mysterious German guest causes upheaval – for that particular summer and for generations to come. This is a light and frothy read, perfect for Downton fans. The early scenes have a tendency to feel slightly disjointed, and the character of kit takes a while to warm to, but it is still a delightful read that would make a brilliant film adaptation.
EVERY GOOD DEED AND OTHER STORIES by Dorothy Whipple (Persephone books, £12)
England in the 1930s and ’40s is the setting for Dorothy Whipple’s novella and short stories. Two spinsters, Emily and Susan Topham, adopt an unruly girl from an orphanage, who soon wreaks havoc on their comfortable lives. Disapproving ‘cook’ is less surprised. Although compelling and full of twists and turns, the novella is overlong. Whipple is adept at convincing, unpleasant and manipulative characters, and situations spiralling out of control. Her tales ring true with acerbic wit and subtle observations. She vividly evokes an era when middle- class women had pretensions, household staff and time for tea: a world of dance halls, boarding houses, fish knives and smog. Unputdownable. RW
THE LADY’S RECIPE READSFrom the latest celebrity haunt to the father of French cuisine in the uK, two very different sides of British cooking. By Juanita Coulson
CHILTERN FIREHOUSE: THE COOKBOOK by André Balazs and Nuno Mendes (Preface Publishing, £30)
When it opened in 2013, London’s Chiltern Firehouse became an instant hit with the fashionable crowd, and it remains at the top of its game three years later. And with Lisbon-born hipster chef Nuno Mendes at the helm, the dishes on the menu are as starry and attractive as the clientele – not often the case with a-list haunts du jour. With nods to Mendes’s experiences in Europe and the US, the recipes are modern, balanced and refined without being prissy. Puddings include a superb frozen apple panna cotta, and brunch dishes are a strong suit: think soft scrambled eggs with leek, courgette, spinach and Parmesan.
CLASSIC KOFFMANN: 50 YEARS A CHEF by Pierre Koffmann (Jacqui Small, £30)
With three Michelin stars and half a century in the business, French-born, British-based Koffmann has been hailed as ‘the chef of chefs’, and has played a pivotal role in bringing the best of French cuisine to these shores. Following on from his award-winning memories of Gascony, his new book is at once a cookery bible, a memoir and a showcase of his legacy. There are over 100 of his inspired recipes – many of them surprisingly accessible for the home cook – accompanied by David Loftus’s striking photography and contributions from Koffmann’s protégés, a veritable who’s who of contemporary British gastronomy (including marco Pierre White and Gordon ramsay). An instant classic..
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