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Book Reviews: 27 March

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

OUT NOW

Books-Apr03-BlairInc-176BLAIR INC: The Man Behind The Mask by Francis Beckett, David Hencke and Nick Kochan (John Blake Publishing, £20; offer price, £16)
With the General Election approaching, a new book on former Prime Minister Tony Blair presents an exposé of his vast business empire and extraordinary lifestyle. Written by three award-winning journalists, it promises ‘an investigation into the secrecy that surrounds Blair’s companies’ and burgeoning property portfolio. The book claims that when Blair resigned as prime minister in 2007, he was ‘appointed Middle East peace envoy and set about making himself seriously rich’. It describes him jetting around the world advising dictators like Colonel Gaddafi , politicians and oil companies, and spending a fortune on expenses and salaries for his staff who are ‘forced to sign long, ferocious confidentiality agreements’. He travels in a private jet dubbed Blair Force One with his sizeable entourage, and stays at five-star hotels around the world, including the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi, where suites can cost up to £5,000 a night.

Although a riveting, well-researched page-turner, I found this book a depressing read as Blair, who won three elections and helped negotiate peace with Northern Ireland, is exposed as being avaricious and amoral: he is alleged to have used his role as Middle East peace envoy ‘to feather his own nest’ rather than promote world peace. Rebecca Wallersteiner




Books-Apr03-OdysseusRoad-176ODYSSEUS ABROAD by Amit Chaudhuri (Oneworld, £14.99; offer price, £12.99)
A day in the life of young student Ananda Sen: he writes poetry and has embarked on an English Literature degree in an unfamiliar city, where he wanders, absorbed. He views the setting – 1980s London – with a mixture of admiration and scepticism. His route and thoughts weave through the streets of Bloomsbury to Belsize Park and Euston, further across the city and beyond to past visits made by his family members coming from India post-independence.

Taking its cue from Homer’s The Odyssey, and with a thematic nod at Joyce’s Ulysses, Ananda’s journey is one of culture, camaraderie, alienation and above all observation. His London has stories to tell as he cautiously treads its streets. Signifi cance lies in a recommended novel, the inside of a suitcase, a smile in a tea shop; all representative of a time, place or concept. The primarily stream-ofconsciousness narrative is easily followed and lucidly expressed.

Ananda spends time with two equally splendid, larger-thanlife characters, his tutor Nestor Davidson and his uncle Radhesh – both, like Ananda, elusive, despite their expansiveness. One day only. Nothing more is needed. But the final words, ‘I’ll be seeing you’, make for wishful thinking. Amit Chaudhuri is on top form.
Philippa Williams





BOOK OF THE WEEK

Books-Apr03-TheKindness-176Cast out from paradise
THE KINDNESS by Polly Samson (Bloomsbury, £14.99; offer price, £12.99)
It’s 1997 and Milton scholar Julian is lost in a muzzy haze of medicated grief. His partner, Julia, has removed all traces of herself from their idyllic cottage while all that remains of their young daughter is a single shoe. Unable to work, and keen to avoid the smothering sympathy of his ex, Julian succumbs to memories: of his affair with Julia, of their daughter’s recent lifethreatening illness, and of his love for their beautiful riverside home, Firdaws.

The Kindness is a tale of paradise lost and regained; of temptation, jealousy, betrayal and passion. Like Samson’s previous work, it is also intensely sensuous and intoxicatingly steeped in colour. Images leap from the page – an orchard hammock, for instance, is ‘a lowslung smile’ – while the scent of Firdaws’s hay meadows and honeysuckle is almost tangible.

Moving backwards and forwards in time, Samson’s intricate plot slowly gives up its painful secrets, causing the reader to question previous assumptions. At the same time, references to Milton’s epic account of man’s fall cleverly embroider the action, which sees both Julia and Julian cast out from bliss in separate, unforeseeable ways.

Samson is particularly adept at domestic scenes. She also captures brilliantly the sweatypalmed anguish of parents whose child is seriously ill. A hearttwisting and headily compulsive read.
Stephanie Cross

COFFEE TABLE BOOK

FASHIONING THE BODY: An Intimate History Of The Silhouette, edited by Denis Bruna (Yale University Press, £35; offer price, £31.50)
Books-Apr03-CoffeeTable-02-590
We might like to think that clothes merely follow the contours of the body but, as this book shows, historically both men and women’s fashions have contrived to sculpt the figure according to contemporary ideals. And here it is the underpinnings that are most revealing: panniers, bustles and corsets; their modern-day equivalents, the push-up bra and the bodycon dress; the infamous Tudor codpiece.

Books-Apr03-CoffeeTable-01-590

Featuring period pieces, paintings, cartoons and fashion photography, this book tears apart the seams of fashion history to reveal the artifi ce behind the changing silhouette, from the Middle Ages to the present day.
JC

PAPERBACKS
Books-Apr03-Paperbacks-590

STAMMERED SONGBOOK: A Mother’s Book Of Hours by Erwin Mortier (Pushkin Press, £8.99; offer price, £8.54)
The title of this profoundly affecting book, with its reference to the monastic offices, draws a fitting parallel between the repetitive and inescapable routines of the religious life and those of caring for a terminally ill relative. In short chapters that are best described as exquisite prose poems, Mortier observes his mother’s slow deterioration in the grip of Alzheimer’s. Its effects on the family are acutely described, too: the protracted grieving for someone who is still there but no longer herself, the guilt when home care is no longer an option. As the ‘cowardly disease’ strips his mother of memory and language, Mortier’s mindful and beautifully articulated account of her life and final years is the best memorial he can give her: a testament of a son’s love.
Juanita Coulson

THE MUSEUM OF EXTRAORDINARY THINGS by Alice Hoffman (Simon & Schuster, £7.99; offer price £7.59)
Set against the backdrop of a seedy and primal early 20th-century New York, this is a captivating coming-of-age story. Ruled by her tyrannical father, Coralie grows to womanhood in the mysterious surroundings of circus life. Born with webbed hands, she is trained from birth to take up her place among the gothic curiosities in her father’s ‘museum’ and thinks herself a freak of nature. As her path stumbles onto that of Eddie, a troubled runaway entrusted with fi nding a missing girl, Coralie and Eddie fi nd love – and the courage to challenge their situations and overcome their backgrounds.
Cassandra Steele

TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED

Two new collections of short stories give extraordinary glimpses into ordinary lives. By Isobelle Whitaker
Books-Apr03-3rdpage-590
THE ISLE OF YOUTH by Laura van den Berg (Daunt Books, £9.99; offer price, £9.49) In these captivating short stories, Laura van den Berg explores the lives of women in trapped situations: from a newlywed in Patagonia to a wife abandoned by her husband, wandering the streets of Paris. Central to these tales are women plagued by feelings of vulnerability and insecurity. While some find relief, others seem unable to escape.

The author focuses on characters who ‘just wanted to get out of [their] lives’, who appear stagnant but have the determination to find a way out. An enthralling collection that takes the reader on a journey across the globe.

KARATE CHOP & MINNA NEEDS REHEARSAL SPACE by Dorthe Nors (Pushkin Press, £8.99; offer price £8.54)
Nors is the Danish doyenne of the genre. Her incredibly blunt and direct prose gives these brief glimpses of ordinary lives great power and a darkly comic undertone: the wrong grocery order leads to an enchanting encounter; a man browses the internet for stories of female murderers. The stark style may seem lacking in description, but her masterful storytelling more than makes up for it. The sparse tone and frequent use of the present tense allow readers to fully immerse themselves in the unusual plots, and feel her characters’ despair as well as their moments of joy. Nors presents a hauntingly familiar world, which takes unpredicted turns that are at once astoundingly disturbing and curiously beautiful.

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