Thursday, 27 March 2014

Book Reviews: 28 March

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


Books-Mar28-TalkingToOurselves-176TALKING TO OURSELVES by Andrés Neuman, translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza García (Pushkin Press, £8.99; offer price, £8.54)
Neuman captures a family under strain in this skilfully executed tale of secrets and confl icting loyalties. Mario, a terminally ill man, takes his 10-yearold son Lito on a road trip, while his wife Elena seeks solace in pills, late-night reading – and a disturbing affair with Mario’s doctor. In alternating chapters, Mario, Lito and Elena reveal in monologues what they conceal from one another – each character brought to life by a distinctive narrative voice.

The butch, Latin paterfamilias faces his own vulnerability. Playful Lito, unaware of his father’s illness, picks up on the adults’ anxieties, as expressed in his episodes of magical thinking. Meanwhile Elena, who gave up a promising academic career to become a mother, walks a tightrope of emotional survival and guilt. Her diary entries, by turns meditative, angry and desperate, are scattered with aptly chosen literary quotes.

Set in an unnamed Spanish-speaking country, the strange landscapes and seedy roadside motels enhance the novel’s eerie atmosphere and sense of alienation. The sensitive translation reflects the rhythms and flavour of the Spanish, while remaining idiomatic and effortless. Moving and bleakly beautiful.
Juanita Coulson

Books-Mar28-KiplingAndSea-176KIPLING AND THE SEA edited by Andrew Lycett (IB Tauris, £19.95; offer price, £17.95)
To travel to distant lands in Kipling’s day, sooner or later you’d need to board a ship. His writing is emblematic of the British Empire in the Victorian age, and for Kipling, the sea and our Royal and Merchant navies were the glue that held it all together.

Lycett, who has written an acclaimed biography of Kipling, has produced an excellent anthology of his poetry, diaries and literary work that reveals the writer’s admiration for the professional sailor and his fascination with all things maritime.
Alastair Brent

Books-Mar28-FrogMusic-176FROG MUSIC by Emma Donoghue (Picador, £16.99; offer price, £14.99)
Donoghue’s new novel takes place in the scorching summer of 1876, in the midst of a smallpox epidemic in San Francisco.

In the depths of Chinatown live three former stars of the Parisian circus. When the eccentric Jenny joins their group, secrets unravel and she ends up dead. Her friend thinks she knows who shot her and why, but doesn’t know how to prove it. Full of great characters who you will like and resent in equal measure, it’s an intriguing and well-researched book.
Joe Haddow

Books-Mar28-YouAreTheMusic-176YOU ARE THE MUSIC by Victoria Williamson (Icon Books, £14.99; offer price, £13.49)
Why do some small children start to dance if you play them music? Williamson, a lecturer and researcher in the psychology of music, explores this and other interesting questions, based on the idea that music affects us and is a powerful influence on character.

For example, research shows that professional musicians have significant differences in parts of the brain compared with non-musicians – but does it mean they are more intelligent or happier? This is not light entertainment, but an insightful book on a fascinating subject.
Gillian Spickernell


Books-Mar28-TheEnchanted-176The truth of a crime
THE ENCHANTED by Rene Denfeld (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £12.99; offer price, £11.69)
Inspired by her work as a death-penalty investigator, Rene Denfeld proves an astute social commentator in her latest book set on death row in a high-security prison. Weaving horror and suspense alongside magical realism, she takes the reader on a nightmarish journey that raises important questions about clemency and punishment, death and redemption.

Narrated by a nameless male prisoner, the story focuses on his observations of a female investigator sent to ‘plumb the truth of a crime’ allegedly committed by an inmate in the next-door cell. So far, she has got 12 people off€ death row. ‘I’m not saving any lives. I’m only preventing a few executions,’ she explains. It is a precarious business and not everyone wants to be saved. Eloping with the fallen prison priest, the investigator does her best to uncover new evidence that might encourage a retrial.

Despite harrowing descriptions of prison life and graphic tales of helplessness, the story is not all gloom and desperation: there are some uplifting moments. Prone to hallucinations triggered by traumatic circumstances, the narrator frequently lapses into a dream state, visualising golden horses roaming free in a fantastical, parallel world. Meticulously researched, the novel bene†fits from the author’s †first-hand experience. A gripping and learned study of dysfunctional human behaviour.
Elizabeth Fitzherbert


TOAST & MARMALADE AND OTHER STORIES by Emma Bridgewater (Saltyard Books, £25; offer price, £20)

™I fell in love with Emma Bridgewater’s polka-dot and star-print pottery when I was a student and could barely afford a mug. Today, my kitchen is a shrine to her work. Bridgewater started making pottery 28 years ago, inspired by memories of her mother’s kitchen table.


Here she tells the story of this much-loved British brand – along with some favourite recipes. Gorgeous photographs show Emma’s sketches, her iconic products and the visual influences that inspire her. In a world of cynical marketing, her genuine vision is as warming as toast and marmalade.


THE NEW ARRIVAL by Sarah Beeson (Harper Element, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
A beautifully written and moving memoir of life as a trainee nurse in a struggling NHS hospital in 1970s Hackney. Beeson’s daily life and the colourful characters she met are superbly described, and we begin to understand how her most difficult experiences were also some of the most rewarding. Her selfless dedication brought hope to her patients and made a difference to their lives. A comforting and inspiring read.
Patricia Phillips

BENEDICTION by Kent Haruf (Picador, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
An estranging and startling novel, which brings to the fore the dynamics of a smalltown community where recriminations and regrets are laced with violence. Dad Lewis is dying, and his greatest regret is his unarticulated love for those around him, particularly his brother.

In spite of the poignant subject matter, Haruf doesn’t stray into sentimentality – this restrained approach is the defining characteristic of his work.
Martyn Colebrook


Books-Mar28-OwnerDriver-176THE WOMAN OWNER DRIVER: The complete guide for lady motorists by The Hon Mrs Victor Bruce (British Library, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
Who better to give us modern ladies witty tips on driving than a pioneering motorist who set a number of world racing records in the 1920s? She was also the first woman to be prosecuted for speeding – so do take them with a pinch of salt.
Melonie Clarke


  • THE ENCHANTED APRIL by Elizabeth von Arnim
  • FIRE IN THE BLOOD by Irène Némirovsky
  • THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS by Kenneth Grahame


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