Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Book Reviews: 16 October

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

OUT NOW

books--so-you-dont-get-losSO YOU DON’T GET LOST IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD by Patrick Modiano (MacLehose Press, £14.99; offer price, £13.49)
A call from a stranger who has found his address book. This sinister figure demands information about one of the people in the book: Guy Torstel, a name the writer initially fails to recognise. In tracing this long-lost acquaintance, Daragane embarks unwillingly on detective work into his past. Modiano’s control of plot is superb – he drip-feeds revelations with flawless timing, his narrative a tightrope suspended over a menacing darkness. The threat comes not from characters or events, but from the protagonist’s unearthed remembrances. The traumatic childhood memory he is ultimately forced to un-forget has the power to hurt him more than anything in his present life.

In this twilight world, Paris’s seedy underbelly rubs shoulders with respectable writers and doctors – a bleak urban landscape of deserted cafes and godforsaken suburbs, with gamblers, fraudsters and nightclub dancers completing the cast. An inconclusive ending reinforces the sense of strangeness that drives this masterful exploration of memory and identity: the deepest mystery is often oneself.
Juanita Coulson


books-golden-ageGOLDEN AGE by Jane Smiley (Mantle, £18.99; offer price, £16.99)
The last century of American history, with a peep into the future, frames Smiley’s family-based trilogy. This final instalment covers 1987 to 2019, as the descendants of Rosanna and Walter Langdon run with the times, as well as become perplexed by them. The defining events of these decades are clearly identified, while the fictional family embodies the transformation of ordinary Americans. Politics and finance loom large, along with the changing outlook of this family, traditionally a farming one. Despite the broad narrative reach, Smiley manages on the whole to avoid impersonality in her characterisation. While wide-sweeping


BOOK OF THE WEEK

books-book-of-the-weekWEATHERLAND: Writers & Artists Under English Skies by Alexandra Harris (Thames & Hudson, £24.95; offer price, £22.95)
It’s a cliché to observe that we British are obsessed with the weather – but why shouldn’t we be? As Proust knew, the skies we find when we open the curtains affect how we feel about the day to come. ‘A change in the weather is sufficient to recreate the world and ourselves anew,’ noted the narrator of The Guermantes Way.

The intimate, ever-changing relationship between the elements and our emotions is at the heart of this enchanting study, charting representations of English skies from Roman times to the present. As you would expect, rain looms large: if English literature begins with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, it also begins with the ‘Aprill shoures’ of its prologue.

But Turner’s sunlight and Dickens’s fog, Shakespeare’s storms and Constable’s clouds also have their place in this story, as well as that indeterminate English greyness that so often seems to prevail. ‘English summers take their identity from the stretches of grey on either side,’ Harris writes wryly, before pointing out how the high point of Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings comes when the fine summer weather finally breaks, permitting the overcast conditions to return.

Beautifully illustrated and consistently fascinating, this is a book for all seasons, and one to return to year after year. Stephanie Cross

COFFEE TABLE BOOK

PARADISE GARDENS: Spiritual Inspiration And Earthly Expression by Toby Musgrave (Frances Lincoln, £30; offer price, £27)
Star-rating-5-stars-590

Whether in creation myths or promised afterlives, gardens have been a powerful image in all the main religions for millennia. This scholarly and beautifully illustrated book examines the relationship between belief systems and the shape of gardens, both actual and mythical, across continents and periods.

boosk-coffee-table-book

From ancient Mesopotamia through the Middle Ages in Europe and the East, and up to the present day, we are taken on an enlightening tour. Photographs and representations in art show medieval monastic gardens, examples of the Islamic chahar-bagh quartered layout, bursts of colour in Japanese temple gardens. An intelligent new way to look at beautiful gardens.
JC

PAPERBACKS

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FLY AWAY HOME by Marina Warner (Salt Publishing, £8.99; offer price, £8.54)
With their unique blend of ancient myth and contemporary concerns, Warner’s stories are often dark, always gripping, with unexpected flashes of humour and clashes of the real and the supernatural. The legendary Mélusine is transformed into an iPhone-wielding, sassy mermaid in a parable on desire and identity. When the relationship between a young dancer and her maverick patron takes a sinister turn, the girl escapes into an alternative world through the chinoiserie pattern on her curtains. Questions of gender and feminism, never far from the surface, are explored in a fresh manner. Warner’s writing is at its strongest when it eschews abstraction in favour of the physical – descriptions of human bodies, shimmering underwater creatures, miniature charms with talismanic powers. These are darkly glittering fairytales for our times.
JC

ALTERNATIVE VALUES: Poems & Paintings by Frieda Hughes (Bloodaxe Books, £12; offer price, £11)
Painting and poetry are the ‘driving forces’ in her life, says Hughes in her introduction to her new collection. But while she has sometimes painted pictures inspired by her own writing, this time she challenged herself to create a new image for each of the poems. The result is a vibrant combination of words and visual art, often raw, occasionally too abstract (in the case of the poems) but always moving. Inevitably, there are echoes and shadows of her dead parents, poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, but these only serve to enrich a distinctive voice that is very much Frieda’s own – brave without being strident, unflinching in its observation of pain but without self-pity. A beautiful book to treasure and reread.
JC

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-Oct16-RecipeReads-590

Naked Cakes by Lyndel Miller (Murdoch Books, £20; offer price, £18)
This is an exquisite cake book for the perfectionist. Gone are the heavily iced, over-decorated confections of yore and in their place are immaculate, pared-back creations with ideas for completing the look. With delicious basic cake recipes and a wide array of unusually flavoured butter creams, this book could be used just as a cake book. But there is so much more for the artistically inclined – from decorated chandeliers and table settings to pompoms and origami boats for decoration. There are watermelon cakes and cheese wheels; syrups and candied nuts for cake adornment. For less creative types this book may reinforce their sense of inadequacy, but it is very beautiful.

My Street Food Kitchen by Jennifer Joyce (Murdoch Books, £18.99; offer price, £16.99)
Just reading this book has me drooling with greed. Why, oh why, when the essence of street food is salt, sugar and fat, did we Northern Europeans have to get the patty and bun? A collection of 150 recipes arranged into chapters by country, this is a mouth-watering amble through the streets and marketplaces of India, China, Korea, the Middle East and, to be fair, the West. With handy do-ahead tips to help you save time (not all of us can cook with the verve of a street vendor) and a glossary of useful information, this book will have you (willingly) enslaved to your cooker rather than ordering a takeaway. Yum!

Tweet us your recipe reads @TheLadyMagazine using #ladyrecipereads

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