Friday, 11 March 2016

Book reviews: 11 March

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


books-ExistentialistAT THE EXISTENTIALIST CAFÉ: Freedom, Being And Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell (Chatto & Windus, £16.99; offer price, £14.99)
Like modern-day hipsters, the 1930s French existentialists had a weird glamour all of their own: Instead of beards they sported black polo necks, drainpipe jeans and smoked Gauloises in jazz dives.

The King and Queen of the movement were Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, who practised open relationships, free love and living in the moment – three decades before the Swinging Sixties. They sipped apricot cocktails and dabbled with drugs while advocating freedom, sexual abandon and revolution.

Their philosophy enthralled Paris and swept through the world – although few actually understood it properly.

Young people, including a 26-year-old Iris Murdoch, flocked to Paris to absorb their revolutionary ideas. However, there was a sinister element to the existentialists. A communist, Sartre supported the 1968 student riots, mysteriously declaring the barricades ‘demanded nothing and everything’. And his and de Beauvoir’s experiments with free love left a wake of damaged ex-lovers.

This beautifully written book is an enjoyable journey through a captivating if slightly naive and pretentious intellectual movement – which seems very dated and shallow now. Bakewell successfully captures the initial thrill that the Existentialists felt – before it fizzled out.
Rebecca Wallersteiner

books-exposureEXPOSURE by Helen Dunmore (Hutchinson, £16.99; offer price, £14.99)
Giles Holloway is a civil servant at the Admiralty, a washedout alcoholic with two secret lives: one as a homosexual with a seedy personal life; the other as a Russian spy, photographing classified documents.

Drunk, Holloway falls down the stairs of his flat leaving a top-secret file in his study. From hospital he telephones his colleague and former lover, Simon Callington, asking him to return the file.

Not a cliché left unturned, you might think. Exposure starts like the parody of a spy novel, but it is not. It’s actually rather good – Dunmore’s compelling prose keeps you reading. Holloway then betrays Callington, who is arrested and torn from his young family.

The only complaint is that the author tries to pack too much into one book: Callington is estranged from his aristocratic family and Lily, his wife, struggles with her past fleeing Nazi persecution.

In terms of characters, Callington is too passive to be more than a cipher and Holloway is a caricature, but Lily, attempting to save her family, is the most convincing. Le Carré meets The Railway Children.
Stephen Coulson


books-book-of-the-weekNature worship
UPROOTED: On The Trail Of The Green Man by Nina Lyon (Faber & Faber, £15.99; offer price, £13.99)
Wild weather, as Nina Lyon observes at the start of this hugely entertaining and stimulating book, has a habit of making one feel small. But perhaps that’s no bad thing – in our anthropocentric age ‘we could do with a reminder that humans are fallible, and finite’. However, the storm that batters Lyon’s home in the Welsh Borders does not send her off in search of conventional memento mori. Quite the reverse: it is the Green Man figure that she alights on, his leafy head a reminder that ‘Nature will, in time, consume us all’.

Thus inspired, Lyon – a scholar specialising in metaphysics and nonsense – sets about starting her own Green Man cult. It is a quest that throws up a wonderfully colourful cast: a ‘pagan priest’, a Booker Prize-nominated novelist, and a local shaman who oversees Lyon’s attempts to commune with a hawthorn. But while the resultant live-wire narrative is always entertaining, Lyon can’t be doing with New Age ‘woo’ and argues for a re-engagement with nature that goes far beyond mere tree-hugging. We need, she argues, ‘to get over ourselves and find ourselves again, our smaller selves, entwined with the selves of all other things’. Hers is a persuasive case.
Stephanie Cross


books-coffee-table-bookCFA VOYSEY: Arts & Crafts Designer by Karen Livingstone, Max Donnelly and Linda Parry (V&A Publishing, £40; offer price, £35)
Architect-designer CFA Voysey (1857-1941) was a pioneer of the Arts & Crafts movement. An advocate of ‘thoughtful and honest’ design, his elegant pieces were seen as revolutionary in his day and hold an enduring appeal.

This insightful and lavishly illustrated book is the first comprehensive study of Voysey’s prolific output in two decades, and focuses on his furniture, metalwork and textile designs. New research sheds fresh light on his working life, how his ideas were executed and his products marketed. Stunning photography of his objects, original drawings and archive images complete the picture, showing why Voysey’s designs still feel fresh and covetable today.


TRIALS OF PASSION: Crimes In The Name Of Love And Madness by Lisa Appignanesi (Virago, £9.99; offer price, £9.49)
This fascinating study of acts of violence committed in the heat of passion – be it revenge, obsession or jilted love – offers much more than gruesome true-crime narratives (of the sort that would make tabloid headlines today). A respectable spinster turns poisoner in Victorian Brighton. In 1880s Paris, a woman stalks her unfaithful lover with murderous intent. And in early 20th-century New York, a millionaire shoots an architect in full view of a crowd.

Examining these cases and deftly blending psychology, social history and gender studies, Appignanesi paints an incisive picture of each period and place, showing how changing ideas about madness and gender shaped judicial processes, and heralded the rise of expert witnesses whose views ‘were no more gender blind than justice itself’. Juanita Coulson

MY FAMILY AND OTHER ANIMALS by Gerald Durrell (Penguin, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
This new edition of the acclaimed conservationist’s childhood memoir coincides with ITV’s series The Durrells, starring Keeley Hawes.

To escape the ills of the British climate and improve their straitened circumstances, the family decamps to Corfu, in search of a healthier life. There they find themselves at close quarters with the local fauna, an ideal set-up for budding naturalist Gerald.

Durrell is as sharp an observer of humans as he is of the natural world, and paints an engaging picture of family life. His muchput- upon widowed mother and siblings – withering would-be novelist Lawrence, acne-prone Margo with a face ‘like a plate of scarlet porridge’ and brooding Leslie – come affectionately but unsparingly under the microscope, ailments and all. A spellbinding read, this is a classic that is worth revisiting.


Health food trends look like the preserve of pampered celebs, but these books show they can be mastered by all. By Juanita Coulson


HEMSLEY HEMSLEY: Good + Simple by Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley (Ebury Press, £25; offer price, £21.50)
Their blog launched the Hemsley sisters’ career as health-food gurus, with a thriving catering business and bestselling first book, The Art Of Eating Well. Their second stays loyal to their philosophy of ‘delicious, nutritious and sustainable’ food, but sets out to prove that busy lifestyles and modest budgets needn’t be a barrier. Starting with 10 easy dishes, like Mexican-inspired huevos rancheros, it offers weekly menu plans and recipes for everything from dips to breakfasts and main courses. Yes, there is a lot of quinoa and kale, but recipes live up to their claim of being simple and tasty, using superfood ingredients in inspired ways.

KEEP IT REAL by Calgary Avansino (Yellow Kite, £25; offer price, £21.50)
The glamorous, passionate wholefood advocate and Vogue contributing editor must have got fed up with accusations of exclusivity and unrealistic expectations: her new book tackles the problem head-on. Designed with busy working mothers and families in mind, it is all about planning ahead and getting organised. Avansino promotes a plant-based diet, banning wheat, dairy, processed food and animal fats – so quite extreme. But from chocolate and cranberry cookies to four ways with ‘overnight oats’, there are many enticing ideas. Virtuous broccoli ‘meatballs’ may not get past a vegetable-averse toddler, though. The images, styled to within an inch of their life, are at odds with the title, but it’s still an inspirational book.

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