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Book Reviews: 13 February

The Lady reviews of the latest books


Books-Feb13-Tennyson-176TENNYSON: To Strive, To Seek, To Find by John Batchelor (Vintage Books, £14.99; offer price, £12.99)
When Alfred, Lord Tennyson died in 1892, Queen Victoria and the nation mourned. The Queen’s favourite poet wore his unruly black hair long, chain-smoked and sported a cloak and wide-brimmed Spanish hat.

One of 11 children, his clergyman father was a violent alcoholic. At Cambridge he made friends with dashing old Etonian Arthur Hallam, who inspired some of his best poetry. After Hallam’s sudden death at the age of 22, Tennyson’s natural tendency to gloominess worsened – a trait he shared with Queen Victoria, who, at the time, was grieving for Prince Albert. It took Tennyson 17 years to write In Memoriam, his elegy to Hallam, which greatly ‘soothed’ the Queen and secured his appointment as Poet Laureate and his rise to fame. He called his son Hallam.

This new biography explores Tennyson’s often troubled relationships and the Romantic and Pre- Raphaelite infl uences behind familiar poems such as The Lady Of Shalott and The Charge Of The Light Brigade. Although not an easy read, there are plenty of poetry quotes to lighten it, such as: ‘In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love’ – which is still lovely today.
Rebecca Wallersteiner

Books-Feb13-NotQuiteNice-176NOT QUITE NICE by Celia Imrie (Bloomsbury, £12.99; offer price, £11.69)
Celia Imrie is one of Britain’s best-loved actresses, with film credits including Calendar Girls, the Bridget Jones movies and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Now, with her first novel, she brings the warmth, charm and humour of her on-screen presence to the page.

Theresa has moved to the picturesque French seaside town of Bellevue-sur-Mer to escape, amongst other things, her overbearing daughter and exasperating grandchildren. The town is also home to a group of romantic and slightly hapless expats who, like Theresa, are craving beauty, friendship and freedom. Naturally, mayhem ensues, hearts are broken and dreams are realised. A delightfully silly but wonderfully indulgent read.
Helena Gumley-Mason


Books-Feb13-Anchoress-176Within these walls
THE ANCHORESS by Robyn Cadwallader (Faber & Faber, £14.99; offer price, £12.99)
It was a religious phenomenon that reached its peak in 13th-century England, and remains intriguing today: ‘anchoresses’, women who took vows to be enclosed in a cell for a lifetime of prayer and asceticism.

Robyn Cadwallader draws on her knowledge of the period to imagine such a life. What did solitude, fasting and a lack of sunlight do to a woman’s body and mind? What did it actually feel like to live in a damp cell, ‘seven paces by nine’? Can one ever really leave the world behind?

Sarah is just 17 and grieving her sister’s death when she takes her vows in 1255 – rejecting an o…ffer of an advantageous marriage. We follow her from the consecration ceremony that pronounces her ‘dead to the world’, to the harsh realities of the enclosed life. As village women come to her for guidance, Sarah ‡finds herself relying on them for the sense of connection she craves. Paradoxically, enclosure gave women a kind of freedom (from arranged marriages and the ever-present threat of death in childbirth), and a rare opportunity to shape their own lives. But, as Sarah’s conversations with her confessor reveal, the pervasive structures of society and church were not so easy to escape.

This is a powerful novel that highlights the otherness of the Middle Ages, as much as the unchanging human desires and ’ aws that we can recognise as our own.
Juanita Coulson


CONNECTED: THE SUSTAINABLE LANDSCAPES OF PHILLIP JOHNSON by Phillip Johnson (Murdoch Books, £25; offer price, £22.50)
In his first book, the acclaimed Australian landscape designer presents his philosophy for connecting with nature in a sustainable way. The book tells the story of 19 gardens he has designed over the years, including a hydrangea-filled English garden for his parents’ house in Victoria, a memorial garden for a widow, and the impressive design that won him Best In Show at the 2013 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, incorporating the use of rainwater, a billabong and native Australian species.


Johnson’s passionate, engaging commentary complements the vibrant photography and watercolour plans of his innovative designs.


THE SECRET OF MAGIC by Deborah Johnson (Penguin, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
Although this is a novel about a brutal racial murder in 1940s Mississippi, it is written with such charm that it is a beguiling read.

Regina Robichard is a young black lawyer working for the nascent Civil Rights movement. When her office receives a letter signed by MP Calhoun describing the murder of a black soldier, Regina is hooked. MP Calhoun is the author of The Secret Of Magic, Regina’s childhood favourite and a banned book, featuring friendships between black and white children.

Regina travels south to a world she does not know and can barely imagine, coming from the educated and successful world of New York. The town of Revere is both enchanting and sinister, with its deep-seated racism and segregation. A wonderful and clever read.
Victoria Clark

HOW I RESCUED MY BRAIN by David Roland (Scribe, £12.99; offer price, £11.69)
After suffering a stroke, psychologist David Roland sets off on a journey to rewire his brain, practising the same positive approach he has always used with his patients. He seeks the help of doctors, neurologists, researchers, yoga therapists – indeed anyone who can help him make sense of what he’s lost.

His book explores the complexities of the mind, consciousness and neuroscience in an accessible way. A heart-rending story of resilience and determination, it is an inspirational read and memorable account of one man’s courageous and life-changing journey towards emotional health.
Patricia Merrick

WALK ON BY by Stacey Solomon (Totally Bound, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
Charlotte Taylor has recently found fame as a singer. Alongside her gay best friend Rupert, she hits the party scene and begins to learn what it means to be famous, until she goes on holiday to New York and falls in love with the mysterious Blake. This is a light and frothy romantic tale full of hilarious scenes featuring phallic furniture and slapstick falls. You can’t help but love Charlotte and hope that she fi nds her one true love.
Rebecca Maxted


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