Friday, 16 January 2015

Book Reviews: 16 January

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


Books-Jan16-SomeHereAmongUs-176SOME HERE AMONG US by Peter Walker (Bloomsbury Circus, £16.99; offer price, £15.29)
Spanning decades and continents, Peter Walker’s novel begins with a reunion and a mystery. The reunion is taking place in Auckland in 2010, among a group of former university friends. The mystery concerns one of their number, Morgan Tawhai, who died some decades ago. From this starting point, Some Here Among Us spins backwards in time to the summer of 1967 when Morgan, his friend Race, and in fact much of the student youth of New Zealand were taking to the streets to protest against the Vietnam War.

Politics, history, love and sex swirl through the plot and on these currents we are carried, in due course, to Thanksgiving in a post-9/11 Washington DC and, finally, a wedding in Beirut.

There’s much to enjoy and admire: Walker’s confidently roving point of view, his excellent dialogue and his talent for bringing relationships strikingly to life. But the ostensible centre of the novel, Morgan, never comes into focus, and the looseness of the plotting leaves the sense of a story that is less than the sum of its parts.
Stephanie Cross

Books-Jan16-TheOffering-176THE OFFERING by Grace McCleen (Sceptre, £17.99; offer price, £15.99)
At the age of 13, Madeline was taken to live on a hostile island with her depressive mother and volatile preacher father. When things began to go wrong, a Bible-steeped Madeline took matters into her own hands. As her disturbing behaviour spiralled out of control, she was admitted to Lethem Park Infirmary, where she has been held for the past 21 years.

There, impressionable new psychiatrist Dr Lucas thinks he can help unlock Madeline’s memory of what happened on her 14th birthday, traumatic events that led to her breakdown. But he tragically underestimates the power of his patient’s mind.

McCleen does an excellent job of allowing Madeline’s past and present to come together through diary extracts and hypnotherapy sessions. This skilfully written novel is an insightful exploration of psychotic illness – painful to read at times, but nonetheless absorbing and resonant. Brilliant in its pacing, with utterly believable characters, it has an outcome no one could predict that will haunt the reader long after its ending.

Award-winning McCleen never disappoints, and here she has created another psychological masterpiece.
Patricia Marie


Flawless Finnish
Books-Jan16-WinterWar-176THE WINTER WAR by Philip Teir (Serpent’s Tail, £12.99; offer price, £10.99)
It’s easy to see why this Scandinavian debut has earned comparisons with Jonathan Franzen, John Updike and Jeffrey Eugenides. Like many a great American novel, the Finnish-Swedish writer’s first book takes as its subject the everyday lives, loves and tribulations of a single middle-class family – in this case, the Pauls – while braiding in reflections on freedom, art, marriage and the national psyche.

At the family’s head is Max, a fading academic who, on the eve of his 60th birthday, is contemplating a fling. His wife, Katriina, is equally jaded, and while one of their grown-up daughters seems settled, 20-something Eva has recently decamped from Helsinki to London, where her plans of becoming an artist are promptly derailed by a messy relationship with her volatile tutor. And then there’s the ageing parent and the grandchildren’s hamsters to contend with...

Teir’s epigraph comes courtesy of August Strindberg: ‘…life consists of trivial matters’. But his novel might serve equally well as an illustration of the truism that life is what happens while you’re making other plans. It’s a cool yet compassionate tale, occasionally bitingly funny, and while it may lack the range and richness of the standout Stateside domestic sagas, it proves to be progressively more engrossing.
Stephanie Cross


NEO-IMPRESSIONISM AND THE DREAM OF REALITIES: Painting, Poetry, Music by Cornelia Homburg (Yale University Press, £40; offer price, £36)


This gorgeously illustrated book takes an unusual angle, re-examining the creative cross-pollination between Neo-Impressionist painters and Symbolist composers and poets in late 19th-century Paris and Brussels.


The scholarly but accessible essays show how, while never losing their foothold on the natural world – be it landscapes or the human form – works by the likes of Seurat and Signac also embody Symbolist concerns with spirituality, subjectivity and inner life. And, needless to say, the images are stunning and powerfully evocative.
Juanita Coulson


PEACOCK PIE: A Book Of Rhymes by Walter de la Mare (Faber Classics, £6.99; offer price, £6.64)
It is never too early to introduce children to the power of poetry, and this beautiful edition would make a great start. De la Mare (1873-1956) is best known for his intriguing poem The Listeners, and many of his children’s rhymes share the same undertones of the uncanny. All lend themselves to reading aloud, with their ringing alliterations, witty wordplay and catchy end-rhymes.

But behind the playful musicality lie deeper issues: a concern for nature, animal welfare, the perils of idleness and sedentary living – more resonant than ever for our increasingly screen-bound youth. I will be giving this book to my new godchild, but in the meantime I am thoroughly enjoying it myself.

THE HOURGLASS FACTORY by Lucy Ribchester (Simon & Schuster, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
The suffragettes and their sacrifi ces will return to the forefront of our consciousness later this year with the new Meryl Streep film Suffragette – and Lucy Ribchester’s well-timed debut novel. Its fastpaced plot fizzes with intrigue and coups, weaving together Fleet Street, suffragettes and circus performers.

Following the terrier-like junior journalist Frankie into backstreet Soho, the suffragette movement in 1912, a string of murders and the disappearance of the infamous Ebony Diamond, this story is too good to miss. With a motley crew of characters and a helping of period detail, it is a fantastically fun page-turner that pulses with all the energy of London’s streets.
Lilly Cox

RED ROSE, WHITE ROSE by Joanna Hickson (HarperFiction, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
The War of the Roses between Lancaster and York provides a passionately charged backdrop for the tale of Cicely Neville, torn between loyalty and love. Treading a fine line between the opposing factions of her father and her fiancé, Cicely becomes embroiled in a rivalry that threatens to tear the kingdom apart. Thoroughly engrossing.


If your New Year’s resolutions included making time to write, start your new chapter with a place on an inspiring course. By Juanita Coulson


Whether you write purely for pleasure or have serious literary aspirations, a course is a great way to develop your ideas. Who knows where these journeys might take you?

Faber Academy, at Faber & Faber publishing house in London’s Bloomsbury, is committed to helping writers find their voice, with courses taught by leading authors – Jo Shapcott and Daljit Nagra run the Poetry Salon, and Erica Wagner teaches fiction writing. But beginners shouldn’t be intimidated by this august institution: at its one-day Getting Started workshops (£75), established writers will help you take the creative plunge in a supportive environment (and you get 15 per cent off future course bookings).

020-7927 3868,

If you want a week away from the distractions of everyday life to focus on your writing, the Arvon Foundation has residential courses and retreats for all levels and genres. You get to stay in beautiful houses in stunning locations: choose from Lumb Bank in Yorkshire, once Ted Hughes’s home, Totleigh Barton, a 16th-century manor house in Devon’s lush meadows, and The Hurst in Shropshire’s hills. The Starting To Write courses, running from May to November, are the perfect springboard for budding authors. Some grants are available to help with course fees.

020-7324 2554, 


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