Friday, 19 February 2016

Book Review: 19 February

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


books-midnight-in-berlinMIDNIGHT IN BERLIN by James MacManus (Gerald Duckworth & Co, £16.99; offer price, £14.99)
Berlin on the threshold of the Second World War: the music from the cabaret is fading as the Nazis tighten their hold and Hitler prepares for conquest. Into this Hexenkessel arrives Noel Macrae, newly appointed British military attaché – a character based upon the real Colonel Noel Mason-MacFarlane. MacManus blends real incidents with fiction to distil the mood of Berlin as the city takes the first steps towards its destruction. The arrests of political opponents, the Anschluss and Kristallnacht form a vivid backdrop as Macrae’s diplomatic colleagues, enemies and lovers come to realise Hitler’s true intentions.

Spies and secret police move among press and prostitutes as the German Army marches into Czechoslovakia, while the British ambassador remains complacent that a deal can be made with Hitler. Faced with appeasement from Whitehall and rumours of a military coup, Macrae decides on direct action.

Any historical liberties and strained characters are more than forgiven because of the fast-paced prose that builds a great story and portrays a city on the edge.
Stephen Coulson

books-good-on-paperGOOD ON PAPER by Rachel Cantor (Melville House, £18.99; offer price, £16.99)
It is 1999 in New York, and Shira Greene dreams of academic glory in the world of Italian literature. But with only a handful of short stories published, and a PhD unfinished, she seems condemned to a life of drudgery as a temp. Living on the Upper West Side with her daughter and gay best friend, all Shira can do is reminisce on her abandoned work on Dante’s Vita Nuova, and dream about the career she might have had.

All changes when she receives a phone call from poet Romei, winner of the previous year’s Nobel Prize, and is asked to translate his latest work. Shira’s ambitions seem on the brink of fruition – until she sets to work and realises the book is completely untranslatable. But with the help of her unconventional family, and a new-found love interest, Shira tries to get her head around this seemingly impossible task – with hilarious and heartwarming results.

This is a funny, quirky and beautifully observed book. The character of Shira is not easy to warm to at first, but Cantor’s lively writing makes up for it, bringing to life this wonderfully wacky story about second chances and the power of family.
Helena Gumley-Mason


books-book-of-the-weekShylock is my Name by Howard Jacobson (Hogarth Shakespeare, £16.99; offer price, £14.99)
Funny and dark by turns, Howard Jacobson’s latest novel couldn’t be more different from his last, the Booker Prize-listed J, set in the future, although both are about dysfunctional relationships and spiced with the author’s familiar Northern black humour. Shylock Is My Name is part of a project to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, in which contemporary writers re-imagine the Bard’s plays. Jacobson has transplanted The Merchant Of Venice from the Italian city to Cheshire’s Golden Triangle, home of TV presenters, models, bankers and footballers. It is a gripping tale of love, plastic surgery and that notorious pound of flesh.

The novel opens in a cemetery, in bleak midwinter. With a very sick wife and a daughter running wild, Simon Strulovitch, ‘a rich, furious, easily hurt philanthropist’, is in need of someone to talk to. So when he meets the bereaved Shylock talking to his dead wife Leah, he invites him home. It is the beginning of a remarkable friendship. Apart from sharing loneliness, both men are single fathers, obsessed with their tearaway daughters. Culminating in an ingenious, shocking twist on Shylock’s infamous demand, this warm, witty and brilliantly written book provides a challenging feast for the imagination.
Rebecca Wallersteiner


Opera North: Historical And Dramaturgical Perspectives On Opera Studies by Kara McKechnie (Emerald, £49.95; offer price, £44.95)

This extensively illustrated book about a leading British opera company will surely be welcomed by opera lovers and aficionados of performance. Opera North, founded in 1978 and based in Leeds, is well known for its audacious and daring productions, as well as its laudable, egalitarian aim of touring throughout the region. 


The first part of the book details the company’s intriguing origins and history, while part two analyses several key productions from rehearsals to first night. Both accounts are strengthened by the use of archives and interviews, though I’d have liked a little more passion in the sometimes dry academic prose. Steve Barfield



LIFE CLASS: Memoir Of An Accidental Gallerist by Chris Wadsworth (Prospero Press, £8.99; offer price, £8.49)
When Chris Wadsworth first set eyes on Castlegate House, a crumbling but nobly proportioned Georgian house in Cockermouth, it was a coup de foudre – against her better judgement, she had to have it. It was as a necessary by-product of this purchase that she turned it into an art gallery – less of a business plan than the former art teacher’s best chance at financing her impulse buy. Here she reminisces on 25 years at the helm of this unlikely venture turned overnight success, laying bare the nuts and bolts of setting up and running a provincial art gallery (sans the usual banker husband as backer). With breathtaking descriptions of the Lake District, a wonderfully eclectic cast of artists, art lovers and eccentrics, and flawless comic timing, this warm and judiciously edited memoir manages to both demystify and celebrate the art world.
Juanita Coulson

THE ENCOUNTER : Amazon Beaming by Petru Popescu (Pushkin Press, £9.99; offer price, £9.49)
A gripping account of National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre’s 1969 journey to the Amazon rainforest, where he got lost and encountered the elusive Mayoruna tribe. Drawing on McIntyre’s diaries, Popescu has captured this incredible adventure, a meeting between a Western man and a remote tribe completely cut off from the modern world. Without a language or any cultural references in common, McIntyre communicated with the natives using gestures, and formed an extraordinary bond with their leader – while undergoing a spiritual transformation. As powerful and mystical as any ancient epic, this real-life tale will transport readers to a distant world, where even seemingly universal concepts such as time and space are framed differently. Travel writing in a class of its own: Heart Of Darkness meets Walden.

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