Friday, 05 February 2016

Book Review: 5 February

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


books-When-Breath-Becomes-AWHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR by Paul Kalanithi (The Bodley Head, £12.99; offer price, £10.99)
At the age of 36, Kalanithi was on the brink of a brilliant career. After studying literature at Stanford University, he had spent 11 years training to be a neurosurgeon, driven by a desire to explore ‘the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay’.

Then came the bombshell: he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

Knowing his death was imminent and his plans for the future were meaningless, he was faced with making sense of the limited time he had left. In this slim but extraordinarily powerful memoir, Kalanithi grapples with the hardest questions with grace and courage.

He reflects, too, on his profession and the moral conundrums that neurosurgery throws up. In many ways a companion volume to Henry Marsh’s hugely successful Do No Harm, this lucid, humbling and heartbreaking book deserves a similarly wide audience.
Stephanie Cross

books-American-HousewifeAmerican Housewife by Helen Ellis (Scribner UK , £12.99; offer price, £10.99)
In a series of clever and often bizarre stories, Ellis introduces us to a variety of women with one thing in common: they are American housewives. But far from being domestic goddesses, these housewives teeter on the brink of insanity: they languish in their affluent environments, have friends whom they secretly hate, fight with their neighbours or attempt to revive their former careers.

An author who was a one-hit wonder ends up partaking in a reality- TV show with a Playboy bunny. An email feud unfolds between an outspoken young woman and her waspish neighbour. There are also tales about women’s book clubs, Southern belles and cat ladies.

Although the stories are told in jest, Ellis’s insights into the psyche of a certain woman, with her twinset, pearls and lacquered hair, are slightly disturbing.

She lays bare the stereotypical Stepford wife for our amusement: think Betty Draper from Mad Men or a demented Doris Day. Written in a zippy style, with contemporary nuances thrown in, this is a look at the dark side of the all-American girl.
Lyndsy Spence


books-book-of-the-weekTHE NOISE OF TIME by Julian Barnes (Jonathan Cape, £14.99; offer price, £12.99)
The relationship between art and the state is at the centre of this fictionalised biography of Dmitri Shostakovich – Barnes’s first novel since his Booker-winning The Sense Of An Ending. In Stalin’s reign of terror, a composer could not even buy manuscript paper without state approval. Under such circumstances, how can an artist survive, let alone thrive?

A 30-something Shostakovich narrowly avoids arrest when his brilliant opera, Lady Macbeth Of Mtsensk, offends Uncle Joe. But it is only the start of a lifelong ‘conversation with power’. In the following decades, he will write sublime symphonies, but also dreadful music for state-sponsored projects. He will skirt around censorship with his knack for irony, but also denounce fellow musicians.

Soviet Russia is evoked through the composer’s eyes at different stages in his life: from rising star to ‘enemy of the people’ and into respectable but disappointed old age. In a nod to Russia’s literary heritage, something crucial happens on a remote railway platform, which is only fully revealed at the end: a final flourish that concludes the narrative of a tormented life in a major key.

With its three-act structure, dramatic tension, lyrical passages and recurring motifs, the novel has an operatic quality. Offering an intimate portrait of the artist and an overview of Russia’s troubled past, it’s a compelling read.
Juanita Coulson


Modern Royal Fashion: Seven Royal Women And Their Style by Cassie Davies-Strodder, Deirdre Murphy and Clare Murphy (Historic Royal Palaces, £10.99; offer price, £9.89)

This beautifully illustrated book accompanies the Fashion Rules Restyled exhibition at Kensington Palace (from 11 February). From the timeless elegance of the Queen in the 1960s to the sparkling glamour of Princess Margaret in the 1970s and Princess Diana’s tailored drama in the 1980s, it reveals how royal women have successfully navigated the fashion ‘rules’ associated with their position.


As the Queen’s younger sister, Princess Margaret had greater freedom to experiment – in the 1950s she patronised edgy Parisian couturiers Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior. The Queen stayed loyal to London’s Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies. Perfect for fans of royal fashion – ideal for dipping in and out, as reading it all at once is rather like eating a whole tin of delicious biscuits.
Rebecca Wallersteiner



A LITTLE , ALOUD WITH LOVE edited by Angela Macmillan (Chatto & Windus, £12.99; offer price, £10.99)
Don’t follow the herd into pricey restaurants – stay in and discover the pleasure of reading aloud. Celebrating love in all its forms, from the first flush of romance to a mother’s love for her child, this delightful anthology includes a story by Haruki Murakami, poems by the likes of Christina Rossetti and WH Auden, and some interesting surprises. Royalties are donated to The Reader, which runs shared-reading groups in hospitals, prisons and care homes. Research has shown that reading aloud can improve memory as well as increase empathy and relaxation. So this book is not just a pleasure, but – unlike the chocolates – also good for you.

PLEASE ENJOY YOUR HAPPINESS : A Memoir by Paul Brinkley-Rogers (Bluebird, £16.99; offer price, £14.99)
A moving memoir exploring the lasting imprint of first love. In his 70s, the author looks back on his affair with an older Japanese woman when he was a 19-year-old seaman. Cultured and intelligent, Kaji Yukiko was on the run from her yakuza gangster boyfriend when they embarked on an intense but shortlived liaison, sharing their love of poetry and film. Remembering that distant summer and rereading Yukiko’s letters, Brinkley-Rogers shows how a lost love can live on through its influence, echoing across decades and continents

LOVE LETTERS IN THE SAND : The Love Poems Of Khalil Gibran, calligraphy by Lassaâd Metoui, preface by Malek Chebel (Souvenir Press, £9.99; offer price, £9.49)
This selection of verse by the Lebanese- American poet and mystic, author of international bestseller The Prophet, charts the life cycle of love through its ‘seasons’: from the spring of youthful passion to the autumn of mature love, and the inevitability of heartache. Elegantly simple, his often aphoristic verses have a meditative quality. Perfectly illustrated by Metoui’s fluid calligraphic art, where Arabic letters become expressive, abstract images. JC


When the cold weather calls for hearty, warming dishes, look to the flavours and spices of India. By Juanita Coulson


INDIAN HARVEST by Vikas Khanna (Bloomsbury, £24.99; offer price, £21.99)
Growing up in Amritsar, Khanna would rush home from school to tend his grandmother’s kitchen garden. From this early passion for food he went on to become a Michelinstarred chef in New York. His new book is infused with his knowledge of produce and its seasonal rhythms. His 125 recipes are all vegetarian, from traditional Indian to innovative new dishes, but are zinging with flavour and texture – enough to appeal to the most entrenched meat-eater. There is so much more to them than curry – soups, condiments, mouth-watering desserts – and if you are looking for a healthy but delicious alternative to winter comfort food, this book offers plenty of inspiration.

BAL’S SPICE KITCHEN by Bal Arneson (Whitecap Books, £17.99; offer price, £15.99)
YSpices take centre stage in this new offering from the bestselling author of Everyday Indian. The recipes are accessible and simplicity is key, proving that fast and fresh are not necessarily mutually exclusive when it comes to food. Bal gives old favourites a warming twist with a creative use of spices in unexpected ways. But as well as serving up delicious dishes, this book will make you a mistress of spices: it includes a glossary and instructions to make your own mixtures. Surprise Sunday-lunch guests with her tandoori-based chicken (smoked paprika gives this Punjabi staple its distinctive hue), or whizz up some okra with sautéed tomatoes for a healthy supper.

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