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Book Reviews: 6 February

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


Books-Feb06-WilderShores-176ON THE WILDER SHORES OF LOVE: Sketches From A Bohemian Life by Lesley Blanch, edited by Georgia de Chamberet (Virago, £20; offer price, £17)
Writer, historian and traveller Lesley Blanch was writing her memoirs when she died, aged 103, in 2007. Her god-daughter Georgia de Chamberet, an editor and literary agent, was helping her at the time. Now, with this book, she has brought together that piece of writing and others – including unpublished letters and various articles – to conjure up Blanch’s extraordinary life.

Of the many brilliant quotes, this one sums Lesley up best: ‘There are two sorts of romantic; those who love, and those who love the adventure of loving.’ The Wilder Shores Of Love, Blanch’s most successful book, was first published in 1954. However, she considered her best work to be the impressive The Sabres Of Paradise, a history of Imperialist Russian rule in the early 19th century.

She firmly attributed her enduring fascination with all things Russian and Oriental to influences in her childhood. From theatre design she turned to journalism, became Vogue’s features editor during the Second World War, and in 1946 left England with her diplomat husband, Romain Gary, embarking on a life of travels, adventures and dramas. Her account of life with, and later without, Gary is moving and fascinating.

De Chamberet has done her proud: a lovely remembrance of a unique woman.
Philippa Scott

Books-Feb06-JoanOfArc-176JOAN OF ARC: A History by Helen Castor (Faber & Faber, £20; offer price, £17)
The life of Joan of Arc – a peasant girl who revived the military fortunes of France following the crushing series of defeats they suffered at the hands of Henry V, beginning with Agincourt in 1415 – is probably the best documented in all of the late Middle Ages. This is thanks to the copious transcripts from her trial in 1431, and the subsequent inquiry conducted by the French in 1456 that posthumously cleared her of heresy.

But while most biographies take these contemporary sources as the definitive account, Castor puts the life of Joan firmly within the context of early 15th-century political history. Clearly outlining the causes and effects of the civil war between the Burgundians and Armagnacs that split the French to the advantage of the English, the book sets the scene that allowed Joan’s prophecies to be received by the French.

Castor is brilliant at describing the military and political events that enabled Joan to flourish but, sadly, does not shed light on how she actually turned words into actions.
Stephen Coulson


Books-Feb06-WidowsOrphans-176Conflicted characters
WIDOWS & ORPHANS by Michael Arditti (Arcadia, £14.99; offer price, £13.49)
Hot topical issues and thorny moral dilemmas have long been grist to Michael Arditti’s mill, and his latest novel is no exception.

Set in the seaside town of Francombe – less faded than utterly sapped – Widows & Orphans centres on Duncan Neville, the editor and proprietor of the local paper and a man as far removed from Rupert Murdoch as it’s possible to imagine. Duncan believes in truth and fairness, but if he’s a dying breed then his paper, a victim of the digital age, is all but extinct, and Duncan’s personal life (a divorce, a truculent teenage son) isn’t rosy either.

If Arditti’s novel has a message, it’s that of his epigraph: ‘Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.’ From the local vicar, caught between his sexuality and his faith, to Duncan’s ex-wife – subsequently the mother of a profoundly disabled child – each of Arditti’s characters is faced with trials of their own. And yet this scrupulously compassionate book is never depressing. A plot concerning the fate of the historic local pier, now owned by Duncan’s bête noir, businessman Geoffrey Weedon, provides an entertaining narrative motor, while Arditti’s wit and typically breezy style keep the pages turning effortlessly.
Stephanie Cross


SECRET GARDENS OF THE COTSWOLDS by Victoria Summerley, photographs by Hugo Rittson Thomas (Frances Lincoln, £20; offer price, £18)
Recently, a staff member on Richard Branson’s Caribbean island declared the Cotswolds to be paradise. With fabulous photographs of 20 private Cotswold gardens, and accompanying informative text, this book certainly shows how private landscapes in this corner of England have been transformed into heavenly places.


The gardens featured are rarely open to the public and include Asthall Manor, where the Mitford girls grew up, the famous organic plot at Daylesford House, and Eyford House, where John Milton is believed to have written part of Paradise Lost. A privileged glimpse into hidden havens.
Hugh St Clair

For an in-depth look at some of the beautiful gardens included in this book, see the feature in our 13 February issue.


NOW THAT I’VE FOUND YOU by Ciara Geraghty (Hodder, £6.99; offer price, £6.64)
Ellen is a doctor whose husband recently died in a car accident that left her badly injured. Vinnie is a father-of-two taxi driver whose wife has left him. The two meet when Vinnie begins to drive Ellen to her weekly physio sessions. They develop a friendship, and begin to help each other get over their pain.

Set in bustling Dublin, this is a poignant tale of two people who find friendship and more after a period of intense suffering. The dialogue is sharp, fast and witty, and the characters are an astute depiction of people who are going through periods of personal change.

Geraghty has a keen eye for human interaction, which makes this novel a joy to read. This is a heartwarming tale that will have you laughing and crying in equal measures.
Rebecca Maxted

THREE BROTHERS by Peter Ackroyd (Vintage, 8.99; offer price, £8.54)
Ackroyd’s latest novel follows the fortunes of three brothers as they grow and are shaped by 1960s London. Harry, the eldest, an ambitious newspaperman, is in love with the smell of print and paper and has a keen nose for a story. Middle brother Dan is uncomfortable in his own skin, a studious academic who longs to shake the dust of Camden from his feet. Sam, the youngest, is a dreamer and loner who finds solace inside his head. As the narrative ranges through Camden, Chelsea and Limehouse, the brothers’ lives separate and intertwine, with the backdrop of the city being the only stable factor in their relationship.

A classic Ackroyd tale that will not fail to please.
Victoria Clark


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