Monday, 30 November -0001

Book Reviews: 17 April

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

Written by Melonie


Books-Apr17-CuriousFriendship-176A CURIOUS FRIENDSHIP: The Story Of A Bluestocking And A Bright Young Thing by Anna Thomasson (Macmillan, £20; offer price, £17.50)
The unlikely friendship between Edith Olivier and Rex Whistler is the subject of Thomasson’s hefty but engaging tome.

Alone for the first time at 51, Edith, a spinster whose life was dominated by her late clergyman father, seemed to have come to a dead end. However, for Rex, then a 19-yearold art student, his life was just beginning. In the early 1920s they embarked on an alliance that would transform their lives. Well-educated Edith was a bluestocking, revered for her intellect long before it was en vogue for women to be celebrated for their brains. Surrounded by clever people all her life, she discovered a new lease of life with Whistler, and her world opened up. She became a writer, and her home, Daye House, was a creative hub for the Bright Young Things. She counted Cecil Beaton, John Betjeman, Siegfried Sassoon and the Sitwells among her admirers.

Thoroughly researched, with elegant prose and a glittering cast of characters, Thomasson’s account merges Edith Olivier’s Victorian sensibilities with the raucous Jazz Age, giving the reader the best of both worlds.
Lyndsy Spence

Books-Apr17-Disclaimer-176DISCLAIMER by Renée Knight (Doubleday, £12.99; offer price, £11.69)
When a novel with its disclaimer crossed out arrives mysteriously by Catherine’s bed, her promising life is filled with torment. The book is about her, and the main character – who comes across as disloyal and not very likeable – eventually gets her comeuppance quite horribly.

But all is not as it seems, and the fateful interlinking of her family – including her initially loving husband Robert and their aimless son – and the brooding Brigstockes, gradually unfolds, with unexpected and shocking revelations.

Scriptwriter Renée Knight has found her niche in the thriller and this assured debut holds the reader’s attention throughout. The timing of the suspense and the denouements is judged with surgical accuracy. Obsession and hatred are the prominent forces behind the twists and turns, but a very poignant streak also runs through from beginning to end. This example of anyone’s worst fears is treated boldly and compellingly.
Philippa Williams

Books-Apr17-AltogetherUnexpected-176THE ALTOGETHER UNEXPECTED DISAPPEARANCE OF ATTICUS CRAFTSMAN by Mamen Sanchez (Doubleday, £12.99; offer price, £11.69)
Sanchez has created a perfect literary melting pot of English and Spanish culture, aligning them to extremely amusing effect. Hapless Inspector Manchego is ‘hot’ on the trail of Atticus (and his suitcase full of Earl Grey tea), who has mysteriously disappeared while trying to close down Librarte, a female-run magazine in Madrid. But the Librarte ladies have other ideas, and it is only a matter of time before love, linguistics and loss become inextricably linked. A perfectly crafted and light-hearted read.
Lilly Cox


Books-Apr17-PerfectWives-176Drudgery & daintiness
PERFECT WIVES IN IDEAL HOMES by Virginia Nicholson (Penguin, £16.99; o‚ffer price, £14.99)
If you feel nostalgic for 1950s clothes, interiors and cupcakes, this book may well put you off. Virginia Nicholson, daughter of art historian Quentin Bell, draws on the fascinating memories of women from the period, who spent 15 hours a day on housework, then changed into pretty clothes and had the children clean and dinner ready when their husbands came home from work. Talk about juggling – it’s hardly a modern invention.

Higher education was seen as ‘husband hunting’ and ‘perfect wives’ were supposed to ‘stay put’, working unpaid in their ideal homes.

Their casual approach to prenatal health seems shocking today. A mother-to-be could drink ‘as much alcohol as she liked’ and ‘smoke 40 cigarettes a day’ without raising eyebrows – a token but perhaps necessary escape from domestic drudgery.

As a †flip side to the full skirts and immaculate hairdos, the darker side of the decade encompassed boredom, rampant prostitution and even murder. There was no contraceptive pill or maternity leave, being gay was illegal and divorce spelled scandal – as Princess Margaret discovered. Forty per cent of couples lived with their in-laws, being too poor to †fly the nest.

Nicholson’s book is riveting, despite the occasional overlong account, and it reminds us how far we have travelled: thankfully the time seems quaintly remote now.
Rebecca Wallersteiner


SULTANS OF DECCAN INDIA, 1500-1700: Opulence And Fantasy by Navina Najat Haidar and Marika Sardar (Yale University Press, £40; offer price, £35)
Stretching from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal, the Deccan plateau was, in the 16th and 17th centuries, a hub of international trade, and a melting pot of cultures ruled by several Muslim kingdoms. This lavishly illustrated book is the first full study of the distinctive aesthetic developed by their wealthy courts, capturing this opulent world in its heyday, before it fell to the Mughals.


Images of around 200 stunning examples of painting, decorative arts and architecture showcase intricate inlaid metalware, exquisite manuscript illuminations and vibrant textiles, along with site photographs and new scholarly insights. A feast for the eyes.
Juanita Coulson



WELLINGTON: A Journey Through My Family by Jane Wellesley (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £12.99; offer price, £11.69)
When the Duke of Wellington died, Queen Victoria wept and crowds swarmed the streets to watch his cortège pass. As we mark 200 years since the ‘Iron Duke’ defeated Bonaparte at Waterloo, historian and filmmaker Lady Jane Wellesley gives a personal account of her illustrious ancestor, unearthing memories and visiting places linked to him. Her family still inhabits Wellington’s rooms at Apsley House in London, where visitors can see a chair carved from an elm tree from the Battle of Waterloo.

The narrative has a tendency to jump between different generations, including an intriguing account of the author’s grandmother, Dottie, whose affair with Vita Sackville-West wrecked her marriage. An enthralling family biography of a British hero. RW

TESTAMENT by Guy Staight (Dr GB Staight, £9.99; no offer price available)
Testament follows farmer Tom Bomford as he leaves his family home to join the Worcestershire Yeomanry in 1914. Posted to Egypt, he must confront intense heat and disease as well as the enemy. As he watches his friends leave for Gallipoli while he stays behind to break in horses, Tom wonders if he will see them again. As violent battles ensue, Staight sets up a vivid contrast between the men’s suffering and the fear for their loved ones back home. Lucy Skoulding


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