Monday, 30 November -0001

Book Reviews: 29 May

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


Books-May29-SmallHands-176SMALL HANDS by Mona Arshi (Pavilion Poetry, £9.99; offer price, £9.49)
There is an exciting new arrival on the poetry scene: Pavilion Poetry, an imprint of Liverpool University Press, describes itself as ‘poetry that takes a risk… sure to challenge and delight’.

Mona Arshi’s debut collection certainly lives up to that claim. Her work draws on a rainbow of influences, including her Punjabi Sikh heritage. Fuelled by grief at her brother’s death, but encompassing a range of human experiences, her poems have the vividly uncanny quality of dreams, as the surface of ordinary things shifts to reveal something quite disturbingly diff erent. Her use of imagery is startlingly original: pomegranate seeds are ‘unborns ticking/in blisters of heat’.

Although the acrobatic leaps of Arshi’s imagination can occasionally leave the reader behind, and the book could have benefited from sharper editing, this is an assured collection that pulses with lyricism, sensuality and tenderness.
Juanita Coulson

Books-May29-Voyage-176THE VOYAGE OF THE GOLDEN HANDSHAKE by Terry Waite (Silvertail, £12.99; offer price, £11.99)
Terry Waite is famous for many remarkable things: he was a special envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, a hostage negotiator and a hostage who endured nearly five years of captivity in Lebanon. Now he has shown an unexpected talent as an author of comic fi ction.

When newly retired Co-op worker Albert Hardcastle and his socially conscious wife win the lottery, they book tickets for the maiden voyage of the Golden Handshake, a former cross-channel ferry refurbished as a luxury liner. In sharp and humorous prose, the novel introduces an irreverent ship of fools including an alcoholic doctor, an incompetent admiral and a pair of formidable elderly twins.

With each character, the reader initially laughs at their failings, is then drawn to admire their triumph over the travails of life on board, and ends up loving them for how they support their fellow travellers. A hilarious read – and a metaphor for the Anglican Church perhaps?
Stephen Coulson

Books-May29-GoodStory-176THE GOOD STORY: Exchanges On Truth, Fiction And Psychotherapy by JM Coetzee and Arabella Kurtz (Harvill Secker, £16.99; offer price, £14.99)
Forty-one years after the epochal Dusklands, the premise alone of JM Coetzee’s latest off ering suggests that the Nobel Prize winner has lost none of his capacity for confounding expectation.

Co-authored with psychologist Arabella Kurtz, the book consists of a dialogue on the human proclivity to invent stories, assuming a psychoanalytical line of discussion that touches upon nationalism, education and the very nature of truth.

If, at first, the discussion is stunted by mutual deference, this is soon cast off as the authors, polymaths both, sink their teeth into the subject and set about refuting one another.

Points are made through reference to figures from the literary canon, such as Cervantes and Dostoyevsky, and it is to the authors’ great credit that these references never appear pretentious or esoteric, but necessary and illuminating.
Alex Bryson


Books-May29-HawthonTime-176Songs of the land
AT HAWTHORN TIME by Melissa Harrison (Bloomsbury Circus, £16.99; offer price, £13.99)
This is truly a time of plenty in nature writing – behold the rich harvest of paeans to the British wild, from grand lexicons of country life to feted memoirs of disaff ected urbanites finding perspective in the natural world, many of which have been reviewed in these pages.

Some believe this glut of new titles constitutes a welcome revival of pastoral literature; others regard them simply as bourgeois escapism. Both groups, curiously, will find confirmation of their views in Harrison’s second novel: a romantic, yet cautionary tale. Our countryside may be ancient, unchanging and godlike, but it is also cruel, unknowable and heedless of the human desire to belong.

Kitty, a former city dweller, realises that although she has been a resident for years, she is less a part of village life than the swallows and church bells, and ‘community’ always seems to be happening elsewhere, just out of reach. Only itinerant Jack seems to have it right, following the millennia-old ‘palimpsest of paths and routes that cross the country’, never settling, never taking more than he needs or more than nature can spare.

Thought-provoking and beautifully written, this is a fine addition to the nature-writing canon.
Richard Tarrant


100 ALL-TIME FAVOURITE MOVIES OF THE 20TH CENTURY edited by Jürgen Müller (Taschen, £12.99; offer price, £11.99)
Film buffs will fall for this beautiful book, a visual journey through the history of celluloid featuring stills, posters and behind-the-scenes snapshots from some of the most iconic movies of the 20th century. In chronological order, entries cover everything from noir and horror to romance and slapstick, and the images are accompanied by a synopsis, cast lists and biographies of actors and directors.


Hitchcock blondes, Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca and the striking poster of Fritz Lang’s avant-garde masterpiece Metropolis are just a few of the treats in store.


WAKE UP, SIR! by Jonathan Ames (Pushkin Press, £8.99; offer price, £8.54)
Meet endearing eccentric Alan Blair: an alcoholic, neurotic and hopeless writer in possession of too much free time and a personal valet. Comparisons to Wodehouse are obvious, but well earned. The inner monologues describing the bizarre thought processes and exploits of this lovable fool are nothing short of literary genius.

Blair is given the opportunity to finish his second book at a prestigious artists’ colony, the distinction between which and an asylum is never fully clarified. The unconventionality of the artists, coupled with Blair’s persona, make for truly remarkable reading. First published in 2004 to critical acclaim, this reissue proves that, like any truly excellent book, it is completely timeless.
Sarah Fortescue

THE HAPPY EVER AFTERLIFE OF ROSIE POTTER ˆRIP‰ by Kate Winter (Sphere, £13.99; offer price, £12.59)
Rosie Potter wakes up one morning and discovers she is dead. With the help of her brother’s friend Charles (the only person who can see her) she goes on a journey to discover how she died and why she is still here.

This is a hilarious and incredibly moving tale of one woman’s desperate bid to hold onto the love of her life from beyond the grave. The ending will have you reaching for the tissues.
Rebecca Maxted


Our pick of this summer’s essential reading, no matter where you are enjoying a well-deserved break. By Victoria Clark



THE DISH by Stella Newman (Headline, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
Laura writes an anonymous restaurant column. After a visit to LuxEris, she pens the most excoriating review of her career, only to fall in love with the head chef. Can her relationship survive the lies she tells to hide what she’s done? Not one for a health farm: the food descriptions will have you checking out and on your way to the kitchen. Hugely entertaining.

HOW TO READ SCOTTISH BUILDINGS by Daniel MacCannell (Birlinn, £9.99; offer price, £9.49)
This is an enchanting and humorous read, a guide to identifying the distinctions in Scottish architecture. Deliciously free of ‘art writing’, this is a user-friendly and fascinating study with a wealth of offbeat detail. It will appeal to both the layman and professional. One to pack for a trip north.

THE IMPORTANCE OF MANNERS by HG Watt (Freight Books, £8.99; offer price, £8.54)
Aboard a cruise ship is a motley crew of passengers. Among the gamblers and drinkers are Lord Percival, his wife Chanel, not-quitenun Sister Mary and the confused Burt Darwin. Disembarking in Benin, their adventures begin – sinking pirogues, hallucinogens, pythons and the panoply of African otherness that imbues this comedy of manners with atmosphere.

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