Friday, 11 September 2015

Book Reviews: 11 September

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

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Books-Sept11-LandOfGiantsIN THE LAND OF GIANTS by Max Adams (Head of Zeus, £25; offer price, £22.50)
Britain’s so-called ‘dark ages’, the period between the end of Roman rule (410) and the death of King Alfred (899), remain a source of fascination for scholars and the general public alike. With a shortage of written contemporary records, they have proved fertile ground for fiction and speculation.

Max Adams, archaeologist and author of bestseller The King In The North, sets out to learn more about the era and the mindset of its people by ‘reading’ the landscape: reinterpreting ruins, buildings and layers of archaeological finds. In eight walks, a sea voyage and a motorcycle trip, he covers well-known monuments like Hadrian’s Wall and more obscure chapels, hermit caves and burial grounds.

By walking, Adams approaches the landscape as our early-medieval forebears would have done, with a keen awareness of terrain, water sources and weather. A particularly evocative passage sees him wild-camping on the west coast of Scotland in a storm, looking out at the sea where holy men and merchants would have launched their quests. His enthusiasm is admirable: after a soaking-wet trudge to a remote site, he is still thrilled by his find of a particular type of carved stone cross.

Great archaeological knowledge, an inquisitive mind and vivid descriptions of the natural and manmade landscape come together in this erudite travelogue, offering new insights into this formative period of our country’s past. Juanita Coulson

Books-Sept11-NowAndAtTheHourNOW AND AT THE HOUR OF OUR DEATH by Susana Moreira Marques, translated by Julia Sanches (And Other Stories, £8.99; offer price, £8.54)
Shadowing a medical team visiting terminal cancer patients in rural Portugal, Moreira Marques captures their personal stories, their reflections and their final moments.

Shifting between the perspectives of the sick, their carers and relatives, this book ‘about death’ is also a celebration of life in all its frailty and beauty, an exploration of how we live as much as how we die.

Back in his native village, a man in his 80s looks back on his farming years in Angola and the loss of the land he acquired through hard work. Two professional women lose the semiliterate father who made them who they are. A young mother worries about the children she is leaving behind. What emerges from this suite of disjointed fragments is a picture not only of individual sufferings but of a whole country in the grip of its own decay: endemic poverty, the younger generation moving abroad, rural communities turning into ghost towns.

The writing is compassionate but unsentimental, taking in the bodily indignities of death alongside the beauty of the landscape and a vanishing way of life. The fragmentary structure lends an air of visceral realism, but also a slightly unsatisfactory, unfinished feel. Still, this is a powerful, harrowing book that would repay a second reading – if one could bear it.
JC

BOOK OF THE WEEK

Books-Sept11-BookOfTheWeekTales from a troubled land
CRIMES by Alberto Barrera Tyszka (MacLehose Press, £16.99; offer price, £15.29)
Ten short stories, each covering a different crime: murder, abduction and adultery, are all explored. Irony and black humour abound as plot lines twist tightly. The tale of a man killed by a stray bullet, whose relatives try to exploit his death to their own advantage, ends with an Orwellian moral shift.

It is not the crimes themselves that are the main fascination, though, but their effect on the minds of both victims and perpetrators. Unexplained bloodstains on the floor of an apartment induce fear and guilt in a young couple. Awaking from a drunken night convinced he has run someone over, a man is driven to something far worse.

Corruption and violence pervade each story like litter on a street: unremarked upon but always there. A lecturer plagiarises a talented young writer’s work after the author is murdered, reworking the story as propaganda for revolutionary nationalism. This is Barrera Tyszka’s Venezuela, where individual excellence or acts of altruism are smothered by a cynical, uncaring society.

They are all good stories, but the truly masterful thing is that, when read together, the individual misdeeds and characters fade into insignificance. It is the background of a decaying country that squanders people and makes a mockery of ideals that becomes the true crime.
Stephen Coulson

COFFEE TABLE BOOK

Frank Auerbach edited by Catherine Lampert (Tate Publishing, £35; offer price, £32.50)
Books-Sept11-CoffeeTable02-590
Enigmatic, reclusive and secretive, Frank Auerbach is regarded by many as the best figurative artist alive. Painting 365 days a year, he daily scrapes back the surface of his canvas until he feels satisfied with the painting. For 37 years, his confidante Catherine Lampert has sat for him and is the curator of the Tate’s forthcoming retrospective, which opens on 9 October.

Books-Sept11-CoffeeTable01-590

Her sumptuously illustrated book, full of personal insight and quirky detail, sheds light on the artist’s highly private world and his painstaking techniques. An enthralling read for modern art lovers.
Rebecca Wallersteiner

PAPERBACKS
Books-Sept11-Paperbacks

The Woman I Wanted to Be by Diane von Furstenberg (Simon & Schuster, £9.99; offer price, £9.49)
Diane von Furstenberg is an international sentinel of style. Her famous wrap dresses have become wardrobe staples. In this lively memoir, the designer covers the most important aspects of her life, including Love, Beauty and the American Dream. Her writing style is intimate and direct, and the archival photographs of her, her family, iconic advertising campaigns and, of course, the dresses, are captivating.

As a designer who ruled the 1970s, went into decline and made a comeback in the 1990s, Von Furstenberg is remarkably candid, witty and wise.
Robin Dutt

IT’S GOT TO BE PERFECT by Haley Hill (Mills & Boon, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
Ellie Rigby, newly single and looking for love, sets up a dating agency. It becomes a national success, and Ellie meets some amusing characters along the way. This is a frothy and delicious tale full of hilarious dating anecdotes, relationship dramas and more than a pinch of the ridiculous.

Hill brings her characters to life through witty dialogue and musings about love, and provides a satisfyingly romantic conclusion. To be devoured in one sitting.
Rebecca Maxted

THE LADY'S RECIPE READS

More than pretty pictures, every week we will be casting a culinary and critical eye over the new batch of cookery books. By Victoria Clark
Books-Sept11-RecipeReads
Mrs Beeton’s Homemade Sweetshop by Isabella Beeton and Gerard Baker (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £16.99; offer price, £14.99): published on 8 October
In this age of healthy living and conscious cookery, this book is an anarchic offering. It is all about sweets – those forbidden but hardly forgotten treats of childhood. With this tome on your shelves they can again become an everyday addition to your diet.

Lemon and marigold-flower marshmallows, creme de violette truffles, dried-fig salami, sugared almonds. They all seem, unfortunately, rather too easy to make at home. Enticing photographs and recipes mean that this is not a book for entertaining children; it is a terrifying new compulsion for us all.

Prashad At Home by Kaushy Patel (Saltyard Books, £25; offer price, £20)
Not a book for the faint-hearted when it comes to heat, but following Kaushy’s instructions to ‘play around with the spices and find out what you like’, I halved the chilli content in the potato and onion curry. The result was undistinguished looking, probably my fault, but with a fresh green taste and lightness.

It disappeared rapidly. The book has a comprehensive ingredients guide, some of which might be hard to track down (sour melons?), and each spice comes with its health-giving properties.

A refreshing and alternative look at both vegetarian and Indian cuisine, there is no longer any excuse for moaning when vegetarians come for dinner.

Tweet us your recipe reads @TheLadyMagazine using #ladyrecipereads

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