Friday, 25 September 2015

Book Reviews: 25 September

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


Books-Sept25-FrancisBacon-176Francis Bacon in Your Blood: A Memoir by Michael Peppiatt (Bloomsbury, £25; offer price, £20)
Handsome Cambridge undergraduate Michael Peppiatt first met Francis Bacon in 1963: hoping to interview his hero for a student magazine, he tracked him down to a louche Soho pub. Although Peppiatt was heterosexual and never succumbed to Bacon’s attempts to turn him, they became inseparable for the next 30 years. ‘Bacon became a father figure for me and the central influence on my life’, he writes.

Part diary, part art history, part love letter, his memoir captures what it was like to know this brilliant, camp genius, who was wildly exuberant and depressed by turns.

Since Bacon’s death in 1992, there have been several biographies, but Peppiatt’s throws a personal light on his ‘gilded gutter life’. One wonders how the author survived decades of relentless alcoholic whirl around Soho’s night-spots while hanging around Bacon, and if his own considerable talents couldn’t have been better deployed. He broke free to live in Paris as a journalist for a while – but his best writing is about Bacon.

Although many stories will be familiar to Bacon fans, there are plenty of good jokes and it gives an excellent glimpse into a vanished London bohemia.
Rebecca Wallersteiner

Books-Sept25-TheUnfriended-176THE UNFRIENDED by Jane McLoughlin (Quartet Books, £15; offer price, £13.50)
Ffion Finlay is beautiful, clever and unremittingly cruel. While studying at Trinity College Dublin in the Swinging Sixties, she enjoys toying with the lives and love affairs of her three roommates.

This lively comingof- age novel follows the interconnected lives of the four women as they pursue romantic and intellectual fulfilment against the backdrop of the Irish Troubles, spanning a period of about 40 years. Although the characters are compelling, some of the plotlines feel undeveloped, and the final revelation is rushed.

Still, the tumultuous relationships between the women are engaging, with the precarious political and social situation providing a fraught context to this already dangerous clique.

Despite structural weaknesses, this is a very immersive read, making the reader feel as connected to the four friends as they are to each other. A valuable tale of enduring female friendship in a revolutionary generation.
Jess Broughton


Books-Sept25-BookOfTheWeek-176Rear view mirrors
THE PAST by Tessa Hadley (Jonathan Cape, £16.99; offer price, £14.99)
In a West Country rectory, four siblings gather for three weeks away from it all. The house is steeped in family history, but now its fate must be determined. However, the business of decision-making is soon overtaken by recollection and resentment, passion and plotting. Austere Harriet has come alone, but failed actress Alice is accompanied by Kasim, a student and family friend. Then there is teacher Fran with her two young children, and finally academic Roland, who has brought both his new wife and his teenage daughter, Molly. As lust simmers between Molly and Kasim, Harriet too finds herself shocked by desire. Meanwhile, Fran’s children uncover a secret that holds them in its thrall.

This is a novel of delicious readability that reaffirms its author’s reputation – Hadley is regularly and deservedly compared to Henry James and Alice Munro. She’s thrillingly perceptive and deeply sympathetic, and also a supreme craftsman who dares here to devote the middle section of her narrative to momentous events that took place a generation earlier. The result is an extremely affecting novel of cumulative richness, yet there is nothing ponderous about Hadley’s sparkling and sensuous prose: she captures the comedy of family life brilliantly. A book in which mirrors often feature, it does what only the best literature can – it reflects the reader to herself anew.
Stephanie Cross


RAYNE: Shoes For The Stars by Michael Pick (ACC Editions, £35; offer price, £31.50)
Relaunched in 2013, British brand Rayne started life as a theatre costumier in the late 19th century, making shoes for the likes of Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes, and went on to produce some of the most beautiful shoes of the 20th.


This delectably illustrated book charts its story: rising from the London stage to aristocratic circles, Rayne went on to supply the shoes for the then Princess Elizabeth’s wedding and for Europe’s finest fashion houses. Sir Edward Rayne became a celebrity and couture collaborations followed, including with Bruce Oldfield, writer of the foreword. Fashion history at its finest, taking in some of the key social and artistic milestones of the last century.


HEROIC MEASURES by Jill Ciment (Pushkin Press, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
With Manhattan in the grip of a terrorist threat, an elderly couple go through their own ordeal in this punchily concise novella about marriage, growing old and animals as part of the family. While Alex and Ruth Cohen are trying to sell their walk-up apartment and buy somewhere with a lift, their dachshund Dorothy is rushed to hospital with a broken back. With gridlocked traffic and a suspected suicide bomber on the run, they must tackle manipulative estate agents and househunters, while on tenterhooks for news of Dorothy’s progress.

The most affecting passages are those about the dog: Ciment pulls the rare hat-trick of writing from a pet’s perspective without sentimentality, but with a raw insight that packs an emotional punch.

Strangely comforting and disquieting in equal measures, this is a wry look at old age and a brilliant portrait of a rapidly changing city. Warm, humorous and witty.
Juanita Coulson

Out of Bounds: The Education Of Giles Romilly And Esmond Romilly by Giles and Esmond Romilly (Umbria Press, £12.95; offer price, £11.65)
Much has been written about Esmond Romilly, husband of Jessica ‘Decca’ Mitford, in books about the Mitford girls. But now, for the first time since it was published in 1934 and subsequently went out of print, this book allows Esmond’s voice to be heard. Co-authored with his older brother, it was written following Esmond’s spell in a remand home.

Rebellious and opinionated, the leftwing brothers shocked their Tory family (they were nephews of Winston Churchill) with their Communist views. Published when Esmond was 16 and Giles 18, it is a memoir of their formative years, peppered with anecdotes about their eccentric home life.

A fascinating insight into two aristocrats who kicked against the establishment.
Lyndsy Spence


More than pretty pictures, every week we will be casting a culinary and critical eye over the new batch of cookery books. By Juanita Coulson


THE TUDOR KITCHEN by Terry Breverton (Amberley, £20; offer price, £18)

In between divorcing and beheading wives, Henry VIII must have eaten a lot of pies: his waist ballooned from 32in to 54in. But what exactly did he and his contemporaries feast on? This fascinating book looks at the ingredients and cooking techniques used in Tudor England, but also the social aspects of food – from gluttonous priests to what Shakespeare’s audiences ate. Many recipes are still popular today, while others sound suitably exotic (peacock, anyone?). The apple and flower petal pie could be straight from a glossy magazine. Sotilitees, edible sculptures served at feast and the epitome of competitive entertaining, are exquisitely described. Perfect for history lovers.

THE NEW ENGLISH KITCHEN by Rose Prince (Fourth Estate, £16.99; offer price, £15.29)
Baker and food writer Rose Prince’s kitchen bible has been hailed as ‘Mrs Beeton’s 21st century equivalent’. Although packed with effortlessly elegant recipes, it is much more than a book to cook from. In her warm and conversational style, she suggests ways to eke out the most value from good-quality ingredients. From recycling leftover chicken into broth to great uses for stale bread, her recipes deliver maximum results from minimum effort. A voice of reason in our culture of conspicuous consumption, but for all the thrift, there is nothing preachy about this mindful celebration of food. As relevant today as when it first appeared in 2005 – every kitchen should have one.

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