Friday, 29 April 2016

Book reviews: 29 April

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


books-all-at-seaALL AT SEA by Decca Aitkenhead (Fourth Estate, £16.99; offer price, £14.99)
When award-winning Guardian journalist Decca Aitkenhead left her photographer husband for a dreadlocked, drugdealing career criminal, she recognised that she was becoming part of ‘the most implausible couple I have ever known’. Yet her relationship with Tony lasted a decade, during which time the couple had two children and Tony went from crack cocaine addict to working for children’s charity Kids Company. Then, in 2014, Tony drowned in Jamaica while rescuing the couple’s four–year-old son Jake.

All At Sea is both the portrait of a partnership – one that attracted curiosity, hostility, prejudice and bafflement – and a record of shattering grief. It is, thanks to Aitkenhead’s skilful use of the present tense, horribly, viscerally gripping. It is also laceratingly truthful: Aitkenhead admits to moments of madness in the wake of Tony’s death that to this day she recalls with deep shame.

Yet truth-telling is the point of her endeavour – having lost her mother at the age of nine, she is all too aware of the need to preserve her memories, those most precious but fragile of things.
Stephanie Cross

books-Complete-ScrimgeourTHE COMPLETE SCRIMGEOUR: From Dartmoor To Jutland 1913-16 by Alexander Scrimgeour, edited by Richard Hallam and Mark Benyon (Bloomsbury, £20; offer price, £17)
Alexander Scrimgeour, a naval cadet, kept a diary until his death at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. This new edition starts in August 1913, his last term at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, before sea training aboard the cruiser HMS Cornwall touring the Mediterranean, after which the fleet was mobilised for war.

Scrimgeour was ordered to join HMS Crescent, a protected cruiser. Too old to join the main fleet, Crescent was the flagship for Rear Admiral Sir Dudley de Chair, coffee table book blockading the North Sea to prevent shipping reaching Germany. Anxious not to deprive his midshipmen of the experience of combat with capital ships, de Chair transferred Scrimgeour to the battle-cruiser HMS Illustrious – and destiny at Jutland.

Scrimgeour’s diary is a fascinating mix of the events, observations and feelings of an intelligent young man. His notes on the deployment of sea power in economic warfare are astute and highlight the vital work of the Navy. His sketches of his fellow officers and anguish at his own romantic life make you feel alternately old and young.

The last words Alexander Scrimgeour heard were probably Admiral Hood’s: ‘every shot is telling’ – a perfect description of this diary.
Stephen Coulson


books-book-of-the-weekOpium’s potent rhetoric
Guilty Thing: A Life Of Thomas De Quincey by Frances Wilson (Bloomsbury, £25; offer price, £21)
‘Romantic acolyte, professional doppelgänger, transcendental hack’ is how Frances Wilson describes writer Thomas De Quincey early in her excellent biography. Literature’s best-known addict first took opium in London, and thenceforth his existence was a series of fevered dreams and descents into what his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge called ‘caverns measureless to man’.

De Quincey made his name with Confessions Of An English Opium Eater, an essay blamed for making drug-taking glamorous. However, as Wilson cheerfully points out, in early 19th-century Britain, virtually every household had a stash of laudanum (a tincture of opium), which they sipped like Night Nurse. De Quincey’s more serious addiction was to William Wordsworth and he turned his hero’s former cottage into an opium den. His daughters complained that it was ‘habitual’ for their father to set his hair alight. Unlike his sister Dorothy, another ‘opium eater’, Wordsworth shunned the drug, seeing his friends driven half-mad.

This book is a riveting glimpse into the opium-marinated Victorian age and its tormented Romantic geniuses. De Quincey’s story is stranger and more confounding than most fiction. Highly recommended.
Rebecca Wallersteiner


HIERONYMUS BOSCH: The Complete Works by Stefan Fischer (Taschen, £27.99; offer price, £23.99)
It is 500 years since the death of Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch, and museums across Europe are staging exhibitions of his disturbingly fantastical visions. Despite having only 20 paintings and eight drawings attributed to him with certainty, Bosch has become a cult figure whose influence still casts a far-reaching spell today, from death metal music to fashion design.

books-coffee-table-bookThe Garden Of Earthly Delights (1503)

This exquisitely produced book allows us to explore the products of his unique imagination in much greater detail than we could in a gallery: menacing or tortured hybrid creatures; diabolical machines that seem to swallow up vulnerable, naked humans; the landscapes of nightmares rendered with unsettling clarity. Fischer’s essays shed light on these often puzzling images. Darkly compelling.


Counter Narratives by John Keene (Fitzcarraldo, £12.99; offer price, £10.99)
Like the genre of alternative history, which poses questions as to how our present would have been altered if a major historical event had had a different outcome, this impressive collection of unusual, imaginative stories by a leading American novelist creates new perspectives on our present and past. For example, in Rivers, a chance meeting brings together Huckleberry Finn with his former raft mate, the freed slave Jim, many decades after the events of Twain’s classic novel.

Like Borges, Keene rewrites and supplements real-life memoirs, newspaper articles, literary and genre fiction in powerful, intriguing and stimulating ways.
Steve Barfield

The Dust that Falls from Dreams by Louis de Bernières (Vintage, £7.99; offer price, £7.49)
Like his bestseller Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, de Bernière’s new novel is a story of love and war. Dedicated to his grandmother’s first fiancé, killed on the Western Front in 1915, this family saga spans the brief years of King Edward VII ’s reign up to the aftermath of the Great War.

It opens with a Coronation party and high hopes for the new monarch and century. Rosie McCosh and her sisters grow up in an idyllic household in Kent, with their friends the Pitt boys and the Pendennis boys as neighbours. But their childhood adventures are shadowed by the approach of a war that will sweep away all their certainties. Torn between her love for two young soldiers, Rosie takes advantage of the new freedoms and professional opportunities for women. Told in a variety of voices, with extracts from letters, poems, diaries and songs, it is an immensely enjoyable novel, although overlong and the time-jumps are a little confusing.


Books offering healthy nourishment and trusted treats for when life gets tough. By Juanita Coulson

THE NATURALISTA: Nourishing Recipes To Live Well by Xochi Balfour (Headline, £25; offer price, £21)
Balfour, who beats even me in the unpronounceable-first-name stakes, gave up hectic office life to set up a street-food business. But when this became just as stressful, she decided to retrain as a naturopath. While I struggle to take anyone who uses the phrase ‘barefoot earthing’ seriously, many of the recipes are very appealing. Though gluten- and dairy-free, there is nothing joyless about her sea-saltand- pistachio fudge: a sweet pick-meup with health benefits. Turmericand- coconut dal is a nice variation on the Indian classic, but the home-made beauty products are less convincing. Yet another clean-eating advocate, but less grating than most.

MORE HOME COMFORTS by James Martin (Quadrille Publishing, £20; offer price, £17)
If you ask me, when the going gets really tough – after a bereavement or break-up, say – nothing beats proper, old-fashioned comfort food. It is a short-term fix and survival strategy, after all, not how you’ll eat forever. Former Saturday Kitchen star James Martin has come up with another volume of guaranteed culinary cheerer-uppers, a follow-up to his 2014 TV-series tie-in Home Comforts. ‘Classics with a twist’ often smacks of unnecessary tinkering, but these are winners: indulgences like dark- and whitechocolate cherry brownies, and hearty dishes to get you back on your feet, like pea-and-Parmesan soup or the perfect rump steak. Just reading about them makes you feel warm and safe.

Tweet us your recipe reads @TheLadyMagazine using #ladyrecipereads

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