Monday, 30 November -0001

Book Reviews: 13 March

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


Books-Mar13-OneNight-176ONE NIGHT, MARKOVITCH by Ayelet Gundar- Goshen, translated by Sondra Silverston (Pushkin Press, £10; offer price, £9.50)
This funny, poetic, yet heartbreaking novel is based on the true story of 20 marriages of convenience that were arranged to smuggle Jewish women out of Europe on the brink of the Second World War.

Zeev Feinberg and Yaacov Markovitch are two friends who have been selected to travel from Palestine for this purpose. Daring and charismatic, Feinberg is the sort of man who will go on to have ‘a street named after him’, whereas you ‘wouldn’t look twice’ at nervous Markovitch.

When Markovitch finds himself married to Bella Zeigerman, the most beautiful woman he has ever seen, the plan begins to unravel. Emboldened and dazzled by love, and seeing his chance for a better future, he will not, as instructed, divorce her on their arrival in Palestine. He vows to make Bella love him, despite her desperate attempts to break free. His neighbours threaten him, Bella hates him and even Feinberg, his best friend, disowns him. But Markovitch can’t give up hope that one day she will come round.

Although at times far-fetched, this is an excellent debut novel about the unfathomable mysteries of the human heart and the birth of Israel. It’s set to rival Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – the film rights have already been snapped up.
Rebecca Wallersteiner

Books-Mar13-GirlInTheDark-176GIRL IN THE DARK by Anna Lyndsey (Bloomsbury, £16.99; offer price, £13.99)
Anna Lyndsey is extremely sensitive to any light whatsoever. This sounds like the subject of a novel, but it is the all-too-real predicament of the author, who, except for infrequent periods of remission when she can tolerate dawn and dusk, has to spend whole seasons confined to a completely dark room. There, she plays mind games to pass the time, and these pepper her account of her skin’s ‘twisted dialogue with light’, and how the darkness ‘whispers to my body with a thousand gentle tongues’.

Hers is a dreadful situation captured with unexpected grace, and Lyndsey is also able to laugh at the practically unthinkable restrictions imposed on her. Her prose has some lovely wording, but as she ironically observes, her illness attracts metaphor, a device she uses to its limits.

But more importantly, such personification of the illness also clearly demonstrates Lyndsey’s determination, and that of her true allies – above all her admirable husband – in their fight against it. A deeply sobering memoir that, despite everything, strikes an encouraging and uplifting note.
Philippa Williams


Books-Mar13-Landmarks-176Writing the landscape
LANDMARKS by Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton, £20; offer price, £16)
In the 12 years since Robert Macfarlane published his first book, a study of mountains and mountaineering, ‘the new nature writing’ has bloomed. Autobiographical accounts of walking, swimming, bird-spotting and animal-tracking have proliferated, but although the  eld has become increasingly crowded, Macfarlane remains without equal.

This book, however, begins not with the landscape, but rather the language we use to describe it. After all, as the author persuasively argues, the latter brings the former into focus, and, conversely, ‘language de cit leads to attention de cit’. When we lose ancient or local terms for our surroundings, the loss isn’t just linguistic and lyrical; it also contributes to a decline in interest in the natural world that has grave and far-reaching consequences.

Accordingly, glossaries are central to Landmarks, and the 10 included in the book are joyous treasure troves of curiosity. (Readers will have their own favourites, but I particularly loved ‘roariebummlers’, a Scots term for scudding storm clouds.) The body of the book, meanwhile, is dedicated to writers from JA Baker to Nan Shepherd, whose inspired prose captured with brilliant precision the places to which they were devoted.

An elegant, insightful and deeply humane book which leaves you both enlivened and enriched.
Stephanie Cross


YVES SAINT LAURENT Œ HALSTON: FASHIONING THE ‘’s by Patricia Mears and Emma McClendon (Yale University Press, £30; offer price, £27)
Each with his own distinctive vision, Saint Laurent and – across the Atlantic – Halston helped to defi ne the mood and silhouette of the 1970s. From le smoking to the sleek drapes and plunging necklines of the Studio 54 era, their designs were game-changers then, and are still infl uential now (witness the reissued classics in the Halston Heritage line and countless imitations of YSL’s androgynous tailoring-as-eveningwear).


This is the first book to examine their work side by side, off ering interesting contrasts and unexpected parallels. And unlike much of the decade’s fashion, most of it still looks covetable today.
Juanita Coulson


A MEMORY OF VIOLETS by Hazel Gaynor (William Morrow, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
Victorian London leaps out of the page, with its peculiar mixture of energy, wretchedness and spirit, in this tale of Britain’s long-gone fl ower girls, by an author who takes a lively approach to historical fi ction. The character of Albert Shaw, who founds homes where disabled girls can learn an occupation, is based on a real philanthropic fi gure. When Tilly becomes a housemother at one home, she discovers the diary of Florrie, a former fl ower girl and resident, and fi nds unexpected parallels between their lives. This introduces a supernatural element into the prose: unnecessary, but fl eeting. The portrayal of this popular era does not really break fresh ground, but makes for one of the most vivid period novels I have read for a long time.

NOBODY IS EVER MISSING by Catherine Lacey (Granta, £12.99; offer price, £10.99)
Although the thought of upping sticks and seeking new adventures occasionally crosses many people’s minds, after due consideration most of us opt for the security of home. But Elyria is in the minority of people who act on it, leaving behind a distraught husband. The character of this 28-year-old scriptwriter from Manhattan is so complex and confused that some may find it hard to relate to her struggle, but her story is fascinating – a startling reminder of human vulnerability and the dangers of isolation. Lacey’s novel may not be for everyone, but it is a challenging exploration of what might happen if one were to act on common impulses. An unconventional, gripping narrative. Sarah Fortescue


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