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Book Reviews: 27 February

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

OUT NOW

Books-Feb27-SpillSimmerFalterWither-176SPILL SIMMER FALTER WITHER by Sara Baume (Tramp Press, £10; no offer price available)
Lancashire-born Sara Baume’s debut novel is narrated by a 50-something recluse with a rich interior life. With his love of books and a one-eyed rescue dog for company, Ray spends his days walking and reading, fearful of the modern world that threatens to encroach on his solitude.

The narrative style is intimate and confessional, charged with urgency and pained reminiscences of growing up unschooled and all but abandoned in his father’s house. When our weatherbeaten anti-hero is forced to go on the run and live out of his car, this odd-couple, man-and-dog story becomes a tale of free-spirited misadventure.

Baume is a remarkably perceptive writer with a rare knack for drawing meaning from the melancholic, the domestic and the mundane. This is a strange and beautiful novel, full of pathos, intelligent characterisation and o™ffbeat humour.
Anna Savva










Books-Feb27-KaleidoscopeCity-176KALEIDOSCOPE CITY: A YEAR IN VARANASI by Piers Moore Ede (Bloomsbury, £16.99; offer price, £13.99)
His first two books, Honey And Dust and All Kinds Of Magic, established Moore Ede as an original new voice in travel writing: erudite, sensuous and introspective, but never self-indulgent.

Kaleidoscope City is more conventional in its subject matter and, on the face of it, more limited in scope – one city, one year. But a city as chaotic, colourful and multifaceted as Varanasi does not yield its secrets easily. Casual visitors may see the famous funeral pyres, the soot-darkened temples and the ghats that lead to the sacred Ganges, whose waters can wash away the sins of a lifetime. This is, after all, the spiritual heart of Hinduism, and to die in Varanasi is to achieve moksha, liberation from the karmic cycle of birth and death.

Beyond the pageantry, though, it takes a resident’s insight to balance the city’s darker side with a celebration of its luminous creativity, renowned cuisine and masti, an infectious joie de vivre peculiar to its inhabitants. Moore Ede strikes such a balance with elegance and style.
Richard Tarrant




BOOK OF THE WEEK

Books-Feb27-OverOurHeads-176Adrift and at home
OVER OUR HEADS by Andrew Fox (Penguin, £12.99; offer price, £11.69)
Uprooted and often at critical crossroads in their lives, the characters in Fox’s impressive fi rst collection of short stories are brought to life in unflinching close-ups. There are Americans in Ireland looking for their roots, Irishmen in America trying out new lives, those who have emigrated and return home to fi nd the place – and themselves – alien.

But there is another, more unsettling kind of alienation that isn’t to do with leaving home: a teenager failing to reach out to a mistreated boy, divorced parents awkwardly coming together for their son’s graduation, a man facing up to his father’s encroaching dementia.

First-person narrators, their voices deceptively casual and conversational, draw the unsuspecting reader in before they strike. Against a backdrop of ordinary settings and pared-down realism, the arresting images, when they come, have an explosive force, like accents of colour on a monochrome print: a man contemplating divorce watches a swan watching over its dying mate.

In run-down pubs, deserted buildings or halffi nished housing estates, men and women grapple with turbulent emotions under seemingly dull surfaces. More often than not, the stories are not linear, their endings ambiguous or entirely lacking – but this does not detract from the intimately observed micro-narratives of their characters. Rather, it highlights the fact that they are what matters.
Juanita Coulson

COFFEE TABLE BOOK –—

75 YEARS OF MARVEL: FROM THE GOLDEN AGE TO THE SILVER SCREEN by Roy Thomas and Josh Baker (Taschen, £135; offer price, £100)
Books-Feb27-CoffeeTable-02-590

From its first issue in 1939, Marvel Comics rewrote the rulebook of the fantasy genre by placing its superheroes, dastardly villains and misunderstood monsters in realistic settings that readers could identify with.

Books-Feb27-CoffeeTable-01-590

As a result, it produced a cast of unforgettable and relatable characters that have captured the popular imagination, spawning countless incarnations on the big and small screen: from Spider-Man and Captain America to The Incredible Hulk and the X-Men. This gloriously illustrated book celebrates the iconic publisher’s best work, and the creatives whose visionary talents shaped its golden age.
JC

PAPERBACKS
Books-Feb27-Paperbacks-590

MACAULAY: BRITAIN’S LIBERAL IMPERIALIST by Zareer Masani (Vintage, £14.99; offer price, £13.49)
Brilliant, eccentric and contradictory, Lord Macaulay was one of Victorian Britain’s towering intellects, attracting both admiration and hostility. He rose from modest origins to great power in India’s colonial government, and is perhaps best known for introducing widespread education in the English language to the subcontinent. Among other achievements, he helped to abolish ‘sati’ – the barbaric tradition of burning Hindu widows on their husbands’ funeral pyres – and liberated the ‘untouchables’ from caste tyranny.

The first chapters of this well-researched biography are enjoyable, dealing with Macaulay as a child prodigy and his mildly rebellious Cambridge years. But later on, the book becomes rather dry. Nonetheless, anyone with links to India will fi nd it interesting.
Rebecca Wallersteiner

IN CERTAIN CIRCLES by Elizabeth Harrower (Text Publishing, £8.99; offer price, £8.54)
This rediscovered novel by the internationally acclaimed Australian writer was penned in 1971 but released for the fi rst time last year. Set amid the genteel neighbourhoods of post-war Sydney Harbour, it is an exquisitely crafted story about the impact of love, class and privilege on the quest for personal fulfi lment. When Zoe and Russell, children of well-educated, wealthy parents, welcome orphans Stephen and Anna into their circle, their narrow world views are challenged. Their shifting relationships and burgeoning friendships are captured with psychological astuteness.
AS

THE ROSIE EFFECT by Graeme Simsion (Penguin, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
The sequel to Simsion’s quirky debut, The Rosie Project, is an emotional roller coaster of a read. Don never thought he would have a successful first date with Rosie, let alone a happy marriage. Just a few months into their wedded bliss, Rosie imparts some earth-shattering news, threatening to disrupt Don’s life, while he also faces the threat of deportation and the loss of his professional integrity. Endearingly funny and thoughtprovoking.
Helena Gumley- Mason

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