Thursday, 23 August 2012

Book reviews: 24 August

OUT NOW

THE DAYLIGHT GATE by Jeanette Winterson (Hammer, £9.99)

Culture-Books-Aug24-Daylight-Gate-176Jeanette Winterson and Hammer Horror is an unexpected literary double act; it's a bit like hearing Jane Austen is having a crack at updating the Rutshire Chronicles. Winterson's first foray into horror gives some serious literary credentials to a company until now mostly associated with campy vampires. It's an intriguing decision – horror has always been the poor relation at the literary feast, and an excursion to the dark side gives Winterson a chance to explore her favourite themes (gender, sexuality, selfhood) anew. But its genre is also its weak point; the distinguishing mark of a good horror novel is atmosphere and expectation. The Daylight Gate is unrelentingly and unbearably violent, and so Winterson's pleasingly eerie atmosphere is drowned out by the reader's desire for a stiff drink.

The plot unfolds in Jacobean Lancashire, 'the dark place'. Like the title (which refers to the liminal point at which the safety of daylight gives way to darkness), it's a location where boundaries between good and evil, real and unreal and human and monster, are porous. It is beset by, in the words of one character, the period's twin devils: 'witchery popery popery witchery'. In this strange, dangerous land lives the mysterious Alice Nutter, a beautiful and strangely ageless woman and a former apprentice to John Dee, Elizabeth I's alchemist. When the Demdike family of witches and general bad eggs are arrested, and an ex- Jesuit ex-boyfriend reappears under her roof, her life takes on a downward trajectory towards madness, torture and death.

But read it at your peril – because there are certainly bits that you won't be able to unread.

Cecily Gayford


Culture-Books-Aug24-Trick-I-Learned-176A TRICK I LEARNED FROM DEAD MEN by Kitty Aldridge (Jonathan Cape, £14.99)

Death is a difficult subject to tackle and in this, her third novel, Kitty Aldridge's approach could be described as dicing with it.

After his mother dies of cancer, Lee Hart, a 25-year-old trainee undertaker, is left responsible for the upkeep of his deaf younger brother and socially inept stepfather. Aldridge writes endearingly about the details of Lee's day-to-day existence – one minute preparing bodies for burial, the next, preparing dinner for the family – and wincingly evokes his attempts to pursue florist Lorelle with illiterate text messages. 'Ther r butifl thngs in this world + ther is u' he tells her.

As narrator, Lee is painstakingly honest. But his erratic outbursts of violence towards his brother are unsettling. I wondered how far he'd go and whether the climax would reveal a very different side to him. With this in mind, I found the novel fell short, but the exploration of sibling rivalry and the background world of undertaking make this an absorbing read.

Edwina Langley

 

 


Culture-Books-Aug24-English-Food-176ARABELLA BOXER'S BOOK OF ENGLISH FOOD (Fig Tree, £20)

Famous for her First Slice Your Cookbook (1960s), Arabella Boxer now heads up a dynasty of cool foodies. Her son runs Brunswick House Café at Vauxhall and her grandson launched Frank's, a Campari bar on the roof of a multi-storey car park in Peckham that is the only place to be on a summer night if you're young and living in southeast London.

The reissue of her Book Of English Food is something of an event, partly because it is beautifully produced, but also because it offers a glimpse into an era of English cooking that is now almost lost. Boxer's theme is the food served in the great country houses between the wars when 'English food underwent a brief flowering that seems to have gone almost unremarked at the time, and later passed into oblivion.' Hostesses of that era entertained on a lavish scale. A dinner held at Buckingham Palace in March 1927 was, according to a guest, 'a solid mass of gold plate... daffodils, blue iris and golden mimosa... there were six things in succession, all hot, and the peas were quite uneatable.'

Christmas dinner for Mrs Ronnie Greville at Polesden Lacey in 1931 included gnocchi à la Suisse, viandes froides and bavarois vanille. At Fort Belvedere, the Prince of Wales made do with oysters 'in unlimited quantity, followed by a mousse of ham and foie gras and very hot cheese fritters'. Boxer has divided her book up into courses, providing over 200 recipes taken from family archives, magazines of the period and cookery books.

Carolyn Hart


Culture-Books-Aug24-Sweet-Tooth-176MUST READ

On a secret mission

SWEET TOOTH by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape, £18.99)

The publication of a new novel by Ian McEwan is always a welcome event, especially if it coincides with one's summer holiday. Sweet Tooth, set in 1972, recounts the story of Serena Frome, a mathematician who embarks on an affair with an older man in her last year at Cambridge.

Cambridge is the place to be co-opted into MI5 and Serena appears in London a few months later working for British Intelligence. Economic gloom, terrorism, industrial unrest – it's all horribly familiar to the inhabitants of UK 2012. But since this is the 1970s, McEwan also weaves in the Cold War as Serena is sent on a secret mission to reel in a promising young writer, Tom Haley. Intrigue, love and mutual betrayal by a master of the art.

 

 

 


BOOK OF THE WEEK

Summer on the Vineyard

Stephanie Cross reviews an impressive debut novel set in seaside America

Culture-Books-Aug24-Tigers-In-Red-176TIGERS IN RED WEATHER by Liza Klaussmann (Picador, £12.99)

As the great-great-greatgranddaughter of Herman 'Moby Dick' Melville, Liza Klaussmann was always going to make a splash on the literary scene. Billed in some quarters as 'Mad Men On Sea', Tigers In Red Weather, her debut, has been one of the year's most eagerly anticipated novels and, on the whole, she delivers.

Her story centres on Tiger House, an idyllic Martha's Vineyard summer retreat that has been in heroine Nick's family for generations – Nick's cousin Helena has meanwhile made do with the poor relation's cottage next door. Yet despite their contrasting circumstances, Nick and Helena are close, and it is only in 1945, when the novels opens, that their paths look set to diverge. Helena is off to Hollywood to marry an insurance salesman; Nick is heading to Florida to be reunited with her husband, Hughes, who is returning from the war.

But while Florida has its attractions – sunbathing in December and scandalising the neighbours – jazz-loving Nick soon finds herself stifled by suburbia and her strait-laced husband. Helena's marriage isn't going well, either: her no-good spouse is obsessed with a murdered actress.

This first section of Klaussmann's slow-burning but highly eventful novel, told from Nick's point of view, is really only a prologue to what follows. Skipping forward to 1959 we meet Daisy – Nick and Hughes's goldenhaired daughter – and Ed, pill- popping Helena's creepy peeping- Tom son. These five take their turn centre stage and, as Klaussmann shifts between perspectives and backwards and forwards in time, her story becomes increasingly complex, suspenseful and satisfying. However, it is the summer of 1959 on which events hinge: the summer that 12-year-olds Daisy and Ed find a murdered, savagely mutilated body.

This is an absorbing, seductive read that often scrolls like a movie but intoxicates with the scent, flavours and colours of a New England summer: clay tennis courts and white picket fences; gin and oysters; sex and danger.

Klaussmann has the knack of fully inhabiting each of her characters and she is an assured storyteller. But there are niggles: backstory is perfunctory, the final 50 pages are somewhat flatfooted, and some readers will be expecting more of a twist than actually arrives. So, no Moby Dick – but then Tigers In Red Weather is a very different animal.

And as beach reads go, Tigers In Red is a superior species.


PAPERBACKS

Culture-Books-Aug24-Paperbacks-590

YOUNG HERRIOT: THE EARLY LIFE AND TIMES OF JAMES HERRIOT by John Lewis-Stempel (BBC Books, £7.99)

A brief run-through of Herriot's boyhood and pre-antibiotic veterinary college training. Herriot, aka Alf Wight, decided to become a vet after reading an article in Meccano Magazine. Herriot learnt his trade when animal medicine was a profession that 'trailed the faint miasma of witchcraft' about it. It's that hint of magic that made Herriot so famous.

THE DEATH OF ELI GOLD by David Baddiel (Fourth Estate, £8.99)

Funny and inventive novel about the slow death of Eli Gold, the world's greatest living writer, and emotions raised by this impending event. The cast includes children, the fifth (and present) wife and wife four's fundamentalist Mormon brother.

REAL LIFE by Melissa Kite (Constable, £7.99)

Or how to be a single woman in modern Britain. Kite writes the Real Life column in The Spectator and while this is not a collection of those pieces, it has the same selfdeprecating sense of humour. It opens with a piece on calling off a wedding, 'a daft thing to do,' Kite decides, 'it would have been better to have married a man you frogmarched to H Samuel than to be in bed alone with a cat sleeping on your head...' Even in extremis, Kite is the ideal companion with which to weather life's little disasters.


ALSO PUBLISHED...

Culture-Books-Aug24-Also-Published-590

THE KING'S REVENGE: CHARLES II AND THE GREATEST MANHUNT IN BRITISH HISTORY by Don Jordan and Michael Walsh (Little, Brown, £20)

Two film-makers turned historians explore the bitter, long-drawn-out revenge taken by the royalists after Charles I's beheading on 30 January 1649.

THE HUNDRED YEAR OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT OF THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED by Jonas Jonasson (Hesperus, £8.99)

A counterintuitively cheerful Swedish novel that explores the life of arthriticky Allan Karlsson who, aged 100, goes AWOL from his residential home and embarks on a series of unlikely adventures.


AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Culture-Books-Aug24-Nanny-Pat-176TALES FROM THE EAST END, THE MEMOIRS OF NANNY PAT PENNY SWEETS AND COBBLED STREETS, MY EAST END CHILDHOOD by Nanny Pat (Pan, £7.99)

'I was 75 years old the first time someone asked me for my autograph,' thus begins the autobiography of Nanny Pat, the resilient, not to say ebullient, East Ender who has been catapulted to fame by her appearances on the television programme The Only Way Is Essex.

For those who haven't seen it, The Only Way is Essex (or TOWIE for short) is one of the most talked-about programmes on air. It's a reality show in which a group of Essex inhabitants go about their frankly quite staggering lives in full view of the cameras. Nanny Pat became involved when her 'grandson Mark Wright started filming, and I had a bit of a cameo when I called round his flat with some homemade food for him. I felt daft...'

But soon that homemade food – especially the sausage plaits – had got under the skin of not only Mark, but also the TOWIE audience. They loved Nanny Pat, and now she's written a book – not about her experiences on the box, but her early life in East London, Devons Road in Bow and Canning Town. Pat spent the first 20 years of her life in a flat in Bow, she was nearly four when war broke out and can remember the gas masks being handed out. The life she describes – evacuation, the loss of her mother, hoppicking in Kent, working in a cork factory aged 15, falling in love with 'my Charlie' – evoke a time that is both familiar from films, but also completely alien when viewed from 2012.

And especially alien since the Olympics were held in East London. Pat's memoir of life there 70-odd years ago is therefore doubly fascinating to read – and an important reminder of how things used to be.

Lola Sinclair


THREE MORE BOOKS ABOUT THE EAST END...

RHYMING COCKNEY SLANG by Jack Jones (Abson Books, £2.50)

Glossary that won't break the iron tank.

THE STREETS OF EAST LONDON by William J Fishman (Five Leaves, £14.99)

This study of poverty, philanthropy, immigration and crime in the area, is illustrated with black and white photographs.

OUR STREET by Gilda O'Neill (Penguin, £9.99)

Personal memoir of life in the East End during the war.



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