Monday, 30 November -0001

Book Reviews: 8 May

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


Books-Mar08-TheStreet-176THE STREET by Bernardine Bishop (Sceptre, £18.99; offer price, £14.99)
Published posthumously, Bishop’s final novel offers an absorbing portrait of a residential London street. It starts with John, a young newcomer living temporarily with his grandparents, so first impressions of the street come to us unfettered, through a child’s eyes. Neighbours include couples of varying temperaments, as well as the lone, gentlemanly Mr Packington and zoologist and artist Georgia. All have secrets and doubts, but want essentially to make good, and their street is at the centre of their lives.

The writing, though not unique, is very agreeable. This is the work of a natural observer: both discerning and compassionate, and not at all self-conscious. The situations described are everyday; the flashes of sudden realisation or emotion are expertly conveyed and always ring true. By the end, John sees the street as his home – and we can fully understand why.
Philippa Williams

Books-Mar08-GodHelpTheChild-176GOD HELP THE CHILD by Toni Morrison (Chatto & Windus, £14.99; offer price, £12.99)
When ‘high yellow’ Sweetness gives birth to a ‘midnight black’ daughter, she is overwhelmed by fear. Assuming that the girl’s colour ‘is a cross she will always carry’, she often treats her child harshly, believing that this will be in her best interests.

But Bride defies her mother’s bleak predictions, and by 23 has reinvented herself as a Jaguar-driving, California-based businesswoman. However, the past is about to catch up with her. In this slim, uncompromising novel, Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison examines the damage adults inflict on children and the legacy of childhood trauma. Easy reading it is not, yet Morrison’s ability to conjure distinctive narrative voices draws the reader in. A strand of magical realism adds to the impact of what is already a hugely powerful tale, although the abandonment of certain narrative threads may leave readers feeling less than satisfied.
Stephanie Cross

Books-Mar08-EveningChorus-176THE EVENING CHORUS by Helen Humphreys (Serpent’s Tail, £11.99, offer price, £10.79)
After being shot down during his first sortie with the RA F, James Hunter sees out the war as a prisoner in Germany. To preserve his sanity he undertakes a study of birds around the otherwise horrific PoW camp.

Meanwhile, back home, his new wife Rose seems to forget about him and forges a new attachment with a young pilot. When James’s sister Enid goes to stay with Rose, secrets abound and the future seems uncertain.

An uplifting novel that explores the fragility of wartime lives – and the awe-inspiring strength of survivors.
Helena Gumley-Mason


Books-Mar08-DontTryThisAtHome-176Difficult circumstances
DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME by Angela Readman (And Other Stories, £10; offer price, £9.50)
A sense of explosive danger and subversive mischief runs through this aptly titled collection of stories. Concise and precise, with unexpected flashes of poetry, these are darkly glittering fables for our times. If you can get past the genre-defying ambiguity of the opening paragraphs, you are in for a treat – though not a comforting one. As Readman finds her stride and immerses the reader in the quirky, conceptual world of her fiction, the stories become utterly compelling: social commentary meets magical realism, with a deadpan delivery.

In the title story, a woman decides to chop her partner in two in order to increase his earning power and spare time. It proves so addictive she can’t stop doing it, but she remains dissatisfied with her multitasking spouse(s). Offering a metaphor for the fragmentation of the self under conflicting social pressures, the tale is also a grimly humorous dissection of modern marriage.

Then there is the teenage single mother who escapes her grim reality by inhabiting other people’s minds. And, in The Keeper Of The Jackalopes, winner of the Costa Short Story Award 2013, a trailer-park father and daughter survive by foraging in supermarket rubbish and making stuffed animals – including the mythical creature of the title.

In these startlingly original tales of characters compressed to the limit by their circumstances, the creative imagination emerges as the only reliable redeeming force.
Juanita Coulson


FASHION VICTIMS: Dress At The Court Of Louis XVI And Marie-Antoinette by Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell (Yale University Press, £35; offer price, £30)
Eighteenth-century France just before the Revolution was a world of unbridled extravagance and stark contrasts. Think towering, architectural hairdos, yards of luxury fabrics draped over crinolines too wide to pass through most doors, worn by a privileged few while vast swathes of the population starved.


This incisive book gives us a glimpse into the sophisticated fashion industry of the time, as well as insights into the role of fashion in social commentary and during the Revolution itself. Fashion plates, depictions in art and photographs of the few extant garments accompany Chrisman-Campbell’s informative and engaging writing.


THE TWO OF US by Andy Jones (Simon & Schuster, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
Fisher and Ivy are swept up in a whirlwind romance – and their worlds are turned upside down when Ivy discovers she is pregnant with twins. When Fisher moves in, he realises that they know very little about each other, but resolves to stand by her. Heartwarming and gutwrenching in equal measure, this is a tale of what happens when two people fall in love first and only get to know each other afterwards.

With the addition of a terminally ill best friend, a troubled brother and hilarious families, this offers a well-rounded insight into the hardships and highlights of life.
Rebecca Maxted

A TUSCAN CHILDHOOD by Kinta Beevor (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £8.99; offer price, £8.54)
Between the wars, Carinthia ‘Kinta’ Beevor crossed Europe to spend every summer of her childhood and youth in the Lunigiana region of northern Tuscany, at a castle owned by her parents (journalist Lina Duff Gordon and artist Aubrey Waterfield), and at Poggio Gherardo, the grand Florentine villa of her ‘formidable’ great-aunt, Janet Ross. Though family friends included DH Lawrence, Aldous Huxley and Rex Whistler, this is no name-dropping memoir, but simply a paean to an idyllic upbringing. Beevor’s masterful prose evokes time and place, scent and taste, humour and superstition, the yearly rhythms of rural life and, above all, the warmth and generosity of the Aullese families that lived and worked on the castle estates, and with whom she enjoyed lifelong friendships.

A delightful read – and likely to inspire many an Italian holiday.
Richard Tarrant


This summer’s essential reading, whether you’re on a city break, relaxing in your garden or on the beach. By Victoria Clark

Time Of Death by Mark Billingham (Little, Brown, 18.99; offer price, £16.99)
This novel sees DI Tom Thorne leaving his comfort zone of London for the dreary countryside of Warwickshire. Supposedly on holiday with his partner Helen Weeks, Thorne is soon immersed in a local case of missing schoolgirls. He is ever the outsider, but despite his dysfunctional social skills he is, as usual, the only policeman with the perspicacity to solve the case.

The Real Peter Pan by Piers Dudgeon (The Robson Press, £20; offer price, £16)
Big questions hang heavy over this biography of Michael Llewelyn Davies, one of JM Barrie’s adopted sons, with whom his ‘Pan’ relationship was strongest. Admired by all, Michael’s life was short, dying at 20, possibly from suicide. Growing up in the last gasp of the Edwardian era, his brief existence encapsulates the lost innocence and hopes of his time.

At The Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen (Two Roads, 16.99; offer price, £13.99)
New Year’s Eve 1944 and Maddie and Ellis Hyde celebrate in a fashion that causes Ellis’s father to cut them off. Unable to serve in the Second World War due to colour blindness, Ellis decrees that finding the Loch Ness monster is the only way to reconcile the feud. His father’s earlier attempts had led to ridicule. But wartime Scotland is an alien planet where nothing is what it seems.

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