Friday, 10 March 2017

Book Reviews: 10 March

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


daughter-of-lady-macbethTHE DAUGHTER OF LADY MACBETH by Ajay Close (Sandstone Press, £8.99)
A contemporary story set in Scotland, close’s new novel explores the fraught relationship between 40-something Freya and her mother Lilias, a former actress. Freya is a modern, happily married woman. She has everything she wants, except her mother’s love – and a baby. Lilias makes no secret that she didn’t want Freya, and loathes anything to do with domesticity. But Freya embarks on a course of IVF and, after getting pregnant with another man’s child, her life becomes a tangled web of lies.

Through her engaging writing, close manages to get under the skin of her characters and the reader becomes caught up in their story. Her portrayal of Lilias – brittle, glamorous and desperate to stay relevant – reads like a realistic description of any given ageing star. Behind the artifice of Lilias’s stories of ‘Redgrave, Olivier, Gieguld’ et al, we realise her life is an empty place, and yet she is her own worst enemy.
Meanwhile Freya, independent though she is, clings on to the hope that her mother will fix everything about the past – only to be disappointed every time. Their pain springs off the page, as each woman confronts the demons from her youth. Close has written a gripping read about redemption, love, and self-discovery.
Lyndsy Spence

in-the-name-of-the-familyIN THE NAME OF THE FAMILY by Sarah Dunant (Virago, £16.99)
The infamous Borgia family, observed by political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli, plots and revels its way across the page in Sarah Dunant’s new novel set in Renaissance Italy. Grandeur and gore jostle alongside a struggle for survival through political masterminding. The action takes place almost entirely in 1502, a dangerous and bloody time when Machiavelli held a government post. He is portrayed as measured and, in his own way, absolutely driven, as he assembles material for what is to become his masterpiece, The Prince.

The other three central characters are the brooding Pope Alexander VI and his children, Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia. Lucrezia, newly and uneasily married, holds court in Ferrara, all eyes on her beauty and her scheming. Her brother’s ruthless military exploits, driven by his lust for power, are the main background to the times. Charting the twilight years of the Borgias, Dunant does not sympathise but allows for poignancy amid the cunning.

Her knowledge of the period is complemented by sumptuous images and enjoyable dialogue, with her Machiavelli, the watchful scribbler, weaving his way discreetly through the turmoil, acting as commentator, reporter and diplomat. This is an informed and exciting take on a period which, as dunant has her Machiavelli observe, is one of true theatre.
Philippa Williams


the-good-peopleFear and Folklore

THE GOOD PEOPLE by Hannah Kent (Picador, £14.99)
Hannah Kent’s exceptional debut, Burial Rites, took as its inspiration the case of a savage killing in 19th-century Iceland. Her new novel, which is no less powerful than its predecessor, is also based on actual events, although this time the scene is set in 1820s Ireland.

When Nóra Leahy’s husband drops dead, it is only the latest calamity that she has had to endure. Her daughter has also recently died, leaving behind a young son who has been left stricken by a mysterious condition. As winter tightens its grip on the poor, rural community, ill omens abound. Could it be that the ‘Good People’ – the fairy folk – are to blame for Nóra’s suffering?

What ensues is a compelling tragedy borne of ignorance and good intentions, of desperation and what we would now recognise as mental illness. Encouraged by local ‘herb hag’ Nance, Nóra seeks ever more extreme ways to cure her disabled grandson, but Kent’s skill lies not least in ensuring our sympathy for the women, even as we fear for the life of the helpless, increasingly tormented child.

The Good People is a harrowing read, but never gratuitously so. It is also marked by the fierce and visceral poetry of Kent’s remarkable descriptions, from a puddle ‘tight with ice’ to robins, ‘blood-smocked against the sky’.
Stephanie Cross


ERIK MADIGAN HECK: OLD FUTURE by Erik Madigan Heck, Susan Bright and Justine Picardie (Thames & Hudson, £28)
Be prepared for a visual coup de foudre: Erik Madigan Heck’s work is a rare meeting of high fashion and classical art. With the rise of social media, we are drowning in images – most of them depressingly banal. So his considered, conceptual and strikingly original image-making is a tonic for the eyes. Heck’s mother, a painter, gave him his first camera – and painting remains a strong reference point.

pg.90 Florals-2012 Erik-Madigan-Heck

His treatment of light, line and composition does make his images ‘painterly’, as has often been remarked, but they stand in their own right at the forefront of contemporary creative photography, using a combination of traditional techniques, natural light and digital processing. Over 100 images are accompanied by Bright’s essay and Picardie’s interview with the photographer. If you buy only one photography book this year, make sure it’s this one. JC 


THE MAN WHO WALKED THROUGH WALLS by Marcel Aymé (Pushkin Press, £9.99)
Marcel Aymé (1902- 1967) was celebrated as one the finest French writers of his day, with novels, children’s books, film scripts and short fiction to his name. Sophie Lewis’s elegant translation of selected short stories showcases his wit and mastery of the genre – a subtle blend of dry humour, surrealism and social critique. The title story is a masterpiece, both the idea and its execution: dutilleul, an unremarkable, downtrodden civil servant, struggles to find a purpose for his supernatural power, leading to his rise and catastrophic fall. Elsewhere, a housewife can multiply herself and live parallel lives; and an unwilling time-traveller is forced to revisit his wartime past. Although none of the other tales quite matches the genius of the title story, these are intriguing, mid-century fables to be read with an open, agile mind. Juanita Coulson

RECORD OF A NIGHT TOO BRIEF by Hiromi Kawakami (Pushkin Press, £7.99)
Set in present-day Japan, these surreal short stories deal with female longing, loneliness and disappointment. In a snake stepped on, a former science teacher steps on a snake, which turns into a woman claiming to be her mother, and walks briskly away. She later reappears in her daughter’s apartment and helpfully cooks delicious-sounding ‘Tsukune dumplings in broth’. The darker missing concerns the sudden disappearance of a woman’s brother, who is engaged to a girl he recently met. Kawakami is adept at convincing, oddball characters and intimate situations that spiral out of control. Baffling, unsettling and haunting, these tales have a dreamlike atmosphere, rather like Salvador Dali’s pictures – anything can happen. Rebecca Wallersteiner


Two books to put some oomph into your everyday cooking. By Juanita Coulson 

NATIONAL TRUST FAMILY COOKBOOK by Claire Thomson (National Trust Books, £20)
We all love cooking feasts for special occasions, but when it comes to putting family meals on the table it’s easy to fall into a rut. Chef and food writer Thomson brings us over 100 recipes reflecting how she cooks at home (no ‘children’s food’, but flavoursome meals all can enjoy). Featuring far-flung flavours and home- grown classics, they are divided into timed sections: 10-minute wonders, 20-minute staples, ‘savvy stalwarts’ taking up to 40 minutes, and more ambitious recipes for leisurely days. There is nothing humdrum about these dishes, like Vietnamese noodle salad or egg fried rice with gingery cabbage, prawns and spring onions. A godsend for maxed-out mums – or dads.

COOKING TONIGHT: Simple Recipes To Put The Joy Back Into Weekday Suppers by Alex Hollywood (Hodder & Stoughton, £25)
Another busy working mother, food writer Alex Hollywood (wife of The Great British Bake-off’s Paul) is on a mission to rescue us from ‘churning out the same dishes again and again’. Her recipes use staple ingredients most of us pick up on the weekly shop, but given ingenious twists – with some brilliant ideas for using leftovers. Global references come via Alex’s travels, time in Cyprus, a French godmother and Spain-loving father. From super-quick suppers to ‘slow, one-pot wonders’, and chapters such as chicken, meat-free and toasties, this stress-free cookbook offers inspiration with minimal perspiration.

Tweet us your recipe reads @TheLadyMagazine using #ladyrecipereads

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