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Book Reviews: 1 May

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

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Books-May01-DifferentKindOfWeather-176A DIFFERENT KIND OF WEATHER: A Memoir by William Waldegrave (Constable, £20; offer price, £16)
While Waldegrave was still in short trousers, there were three Etonian prime ministers in a row – Eden, Macmillan and Home – so naturally the press speculated on which of his golden contemporaries would reach the top of the greasy pole. Jonathan Aitken, Douglas Hogg and Waldegrave all made it to the Cabinet, but one went to prison, another put his moat on expenses and the third came unstuck with the Scott inquiry on Iraq.

What a story for Lord Waldegrave, now provost of his old school. Unlike his chum Douglas Hurd, who claimed to be a poor scholarship boy when he ran for Tory leader, Waldegrave owns up to being a toff with a burning ambition. He was a scholar and an oarsman with brilliant contacts to help him on his way.

Gradually he realises he’s not cut out for the top job. He’s just not tough enough, he learns, as he watches our first woman prime minister taking on the miners and the Argentinians. He is intensely loyal to all his leaders, but that is not a formula for leadership.

Unlike so many political biographies, this is a self-deprecating, humorous tome, by a man who could have been successful in any walk of life. Chapter 15 is entitled The Poll Tax: All My Own Work. Not many politicians would claim to be the brains behind the great Tory disaster that brought down Margaret Thatcher.
James Hughes-Onslow

Books-May01-Boo-176BOO by Neil Smith (William Heinemann, £14.99; offer price, £13.49)
Oliver ‘Boo’ Dalrymple, a precocious young American, finds himself in Heaven following what he believes to be a fatal heart attack at school. Boo makes friends with Johnny Hentzel, a fellow student who also ‘passed on’, and is drawn into a quest to kill Hentzel’s tormentor.

Boo is a character one can warm to while appreciating the quirkiness of his scattered mind – including his ambitions to memorise all the elements of the periodic table in chronological order. Taken along at a languid, gentle pace, this novel is a dish to be savoured unhurriedly.

Neil Smith’s debut short story collection, Bang Crunch, received a glowing review from novelist Michel Faber. Identifying a ‘conceptual hyperactivity’ in this latecomer’s writing, Faber hopes Smith will go ‘deeper under the skin of life’.

In Boo he has certainly gone deeper, but one expects this exciting new talent to achieve even greater depths – and heights – in future.
Martyn Colebrook








BOOK OF THE WEEK

Books-May01-WomenWhoRuled-176Leading ladies
WOMEN WHO RULED: History’s 50 Most Remarkable Women by Claudia Gold (Quercus, £9.99; o‚ffer price, £9.49)
‘Poisoners’, ‘whores’, ‘witches’ and ‘murderers’ – the name-calling gets tough at the top, as these high-powered women found out from their detractors. From biblical villainesses to 20thcentury prime ministers, Gold’s book is a treasure trove of powerful women of the last 3,500 years.

As female rulers in an avowedly male world, they frequently faced the suspicion and hostility of men. Many took an unorthodox route to power – mistresses and courtesans abound. The Marquise de Pompadour became the maîtresse-en-titre of King Louis XV at the age of 23, and inˆfluenced everything from court patronage to royal policy. Slave girl Roxelana ensnared an Ottoman sultan after bearing a son and disposing of her harem rivals.

Equally ruthless and resourceful, imperial concubines Wu Hou and Cixi rose from obscurity to become empresses of China by ‘using any means’, including bribing court eunuchs and even ‘murdering’ their own children. Queen Catherine de Médicis dabbled in the occult and used beautiful noblewomen as honey traps.

Although the more familiar stories, like that of Elizabeth I, o— er few surprises, the book contains plenty of riveting, fresh anecdotes: to gain more respect, Hatshepsut, Queen of Egypt, wore a false beard. Perhaps it was the ever-present threat of an executioner’s rope or a poisoner’s cup that spurred them to outwit and outperform those around them.
Rebecca Wallersteiner

COFFEE TABLE BOOK

A PERSONAL STYLE by Jamie Parladé (Ediciones El Viso, £50; offer price, £40)
Books-May01-CoffeeTable-02-590

The late Jaime Parladé, a Spanish aristocrat, had a personal style that has won him fans worldwide. He grew up in Tangier amongst an antique-loving Anglophile family and opened his first antique shop in Marbella, where he sold ethnic textiles, Spanish pottery and eccentric, unpretentious furniture.

Books-May01-CoffeeTable-01-590

Of his aesthetic milieu and sensibilities he said he was a superficial person who just got lucky. However, as this book shows, his talent lies in an unreverential style that creates the ideal relaxed atmosphere, where rooms don’t look as if a decorator has been there at all.
Hugh St Clair

PAPERBACKS
Books-May01-Paperbacks-590

THE LOST ART OF KEEPING SECRETS by Eva Rice (Headline, £8.99; offer price, £8.54)
Set in 1950s England, a chance meeting between Penelope and Charlotte, two rock ’n’ roll-loving teenagers, rakes up the past and brings the present-day struggles of the grown-ups into focus. Penelope and her widowed mother, Talitha, live at Milton Magna, a crumbling mansion, which they neither like nor can afford. And Charlotte’s aunt, Clare, is writing her memoirs and reveals a secret link to Penelope’s family and the infl uence she had on Talitha.

With a foreword by comedienne Miranda Hart, this 10th anniversary edition of Rice’s modern classic is a treat for fans of Nancy Mitford and Elizabeth Jane Howard. Stylishly written with a touch of whimsical charm.
Lyndsy Spence

CHARLIE CHAPLIN by Peter Ackroyd (Vintage Books, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
In 1915 Chaplin was ‘the most famous man in the world’. His on-screen persona was adored by millions as the Little Fellow or the Tramp – a lovable, clownish character in rags and a bowler hat. But in reality he couldn’t have been more different: a bullying tyrant with a predilection for teenage girls. In today’s post-Jimmy Savile world, he would have likely been locked up. His first wife was 16 when they met and they married after she became pregnant; he began dating his second, Lita Grey, when she was 15.

Ackroyd vividly recreates the dingy, haunting Victorian London that shaped both Chaplin and another genius, Charles Dickens, who also fought his way from grinding poverty to iconic status. Both were brilliant storytellers who had ‘experienced childhood neglect and suff ering’. A compelling read, although it breaks little new ground.
RW

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