Friday, 09 January 2015

Book Reviews: 9 January

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


Books-Jan09-Long-Hot-Unholy-Summer-176A LONG HOT UNHOLY SUMMER by Teresa Waugh (Quartet Books, £15; offer price, £13.50)
During a family holiday in France, the teenage Isabelle is reported missing. The situation rapidly reveals itself in its full terrifying light as a search gets underway, with an illuminating parallel take on the matter in the papers of an 18th-century archbishop.

The plotlines cannot be faulted. In the early stages, some of the emotion could be deduced without explanation in this all-consuming plot – occasionally, not enough is left unsaid, but later this becomes much rarer. Developments occur quickly, often with an unexpected edge, as more characters enter the narrative, who are directly and indirectly linked to the disappearance.

As the sun becomes more oppressive and the heat more exhausting, the reader becomes increasingly immersed in the story’s horror. Waugh brilliantly contrasts the serenity of the rural landscape with the ever-lurking dark danger. A draining but compelling read.
Philippa Williams

Books-Jan09-Eureka-176EUREKA! Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About The Ancient Greeks But Were Afraid To Ask by Peter Jones (Atlantic Books, £19.99; offer price, £17.99)
Did you know that Homer’s ‘wine-dark sea’ is in fact an incorrect translation, and that the Ancient Greeks did not speak Greek? Neither did I (despite a degree in Ancient History) until I read this book.

Following the success of his book about the Romans, Jones takes us right into the Ancient Greek world – from the Bronze Age and the Legend of Troy to the end of Alexander’s Empire and the start of the Roman one. He broadens our understanding by looking at everyday occurrences from the period and explaining how they relate to the building bricks of Western culture and civilisation.

An entertaining and informative read that will be enjoyed by dusty scholars, bright-eyed Classics newbies and general readers alike. A sheer joy of a book.
Helena Gumley-Mason


Books-Jan09-Fires-Of-Autumn-Summer-176As France burned
THE FIRES OF AUTUMN by Irène Némirovsky (Chatto & Windus, £16.99; offer price, £14.99)
The Fires Of Autumn was written in the last two years of Irène Némirovsky’s life, after fleeing Paris in 1940 for rural France. But time and history were not on her side. The unedited manuscript was hidden by her young daughter when the author was taken to and perished at Auschwitz in 1942.

Her protagonist, young Bernard Jacquelain, returns from the trenches in 1918 a changed man. Attracted by the lure of easy money and shady dealings of inter-war Paris, he embarks on a life of luxury and loose morals, throwing off his wholesome wife and petit-bourgeois existence. But when another war threatens, Bernard’s world is turned upside down and everything he thought he held dear turns to dust.

An émigré from Kiev, Némirovsky was a prolific and celebrated writer in her day. She captures the essence of her characters and their ordeals with deft, piercing observations. The men who, spurred on to war by fantasies of glory, are held by ‘the century in its snare’; the women who are left behind to suffer and wait for them; the amorality of war and its dirty aftermath… all are beautifully evoked in a masterly work. This astute novel is witness to an undeniable literary talent tragically cut short.
Sonia Zhuravlyova


WILLIAM BLAKE: THE DRAWINGS FOR DANTE’S DIVINE COMEDY by Sebastian Schütze and Maria Antonietta Terzoli (Taschen, £99.99; off er price, £89.99)
Blake produced 102 illustrations for Dante’s masterpiece. In different stages of completion, they range from sketches to watercolours and are scattered around the world. This beautifully produced book brings them together and showcases them in dazzling detail, with expert commentary and fold-out spreads.


The torments of hell, heavenly bliss, deformity and perfection, love and death – Blake brought his unique vision to the epic poem’s themes, and the result is a collection of arresting, highly expressive images.
Juanita Coulson


THE LODGER by Louisa Treger (Thistle Publishing, £5.99; no offer price available)
This atmospheric novel, which is based on the real-life affair between author and journalist Dorothy Richardson and HG Wells (or Bertie, as he was known) chronicles Dorothy’s life before she emerged as a central figure of modernist fiction among the Bloomsbury set.

Living just above the poverty line, working as a dentist’s secretary and lodging at a seedy boarding house, Dorothy escapes to the seaside home of her old school friend Jane and Bertie, Jane’s new husband. She becomes intrigued by Bertie, a moody, self-indulgent man on the cusp of fame, and they begin an affair. But she also falls in love with a new boarder at the house, the striking suffragette Veronica Leslie-Jones.

Breaking away from her unconventional arrangement, Dorothy dedicates herself to what will become a highly successful literary career. Louisa Treger has brought Dorothy to life in her compelling portrayal of a complex woman living by her own rules during the oppressive Edwardian era.
Lyndsy Spence

MARRAKECH EXPRESS by Peter Millar (Arcadia Books, £11.99; offer price, £10.79)
Inspired by the titular 1969 Crosby, Stills and Nash anthem, awardwinning journalist Peter Millar belatedly sets out to explore modern-day Morocco by train. He takes in the grand imperial cities – sprawling Casablanca, elegant Rabat – the wine lands and the Eid al-Adha festivities. His narrative is at its best when considering the country’s high-wire balancing act between strong monarchic rule and relative liberalism, set against the everpresent threat of religious extremism and an Arab Spring-style uprising. Marrakech Express is an enjoyable read and the perfect companion for travellers and armchair anoraks alike.
Richard Tarrant

THE VISITORS by Sally Beauman (Abacus, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
‘When I’d been in Cairo a week, I was taken to the pyramids…’ So begins the tale of 11-year-old Lucy Payne, who travels to colonialera Egypt following the death of her mother – only to become embroiled in the swashbuckling hunt for Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Colourful and fast-paced, this chunky but highly readable novel offers plenty of intrigue and an interesting portrait of the adult world, as seen through a child’s enquiring eyes.
Giles Cunningham- Burley


Two new books look at seafaring history in a different light, with added spice and mystery. By Stephen Coulson
All I can remember from studying explorers in school is that Renaissance man was fond of a curry. The desire to add some spice to his dinner prompted brave 16th-century explorers to board boats the size of a suburban semi-detached and sail round Africa and then to the Americas. Two books challenge the notion that exploration started in the Renaissance and that it was entirely to the south and west.

In Merchant Adventurers (W&N, £9.99; offer price, £9.49) James Evans tells of an English expedition in 1553 to discover a route to the spices of the Orient, sailing north as an alternative to the routes already discovered to the south. This book, meticulously researched, describes how navigation became a science involving astronomers and mathematicians as well as sailors. Despite the expedition only making it as far as Moscow, they were able to trade at a profi t – their ultimate aim. Evans's short, exciting chapters describe the voyage and 16th-century life, technology and politics in glorious detail.

By contrast, The Edge Of The World: How The North Sea Made Us Who We Are by Michael Pye (Viking, £25; offer price, £22.50) is a mystery tour. Attempting to explain how post-Roman Europe was infl uenced by its relationship with the North Sea, Pye plunders a treasure trove of Friesian traders, universities, money, romance and how to organise a great Viking funeral. While Pye's links are not always convincing and his syntax sometimes strained, his learning and depth of research is highly impressive.


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