Friday, 06 May 2016

Book reviews: 6 May

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


books-birdsTHE BOOK OF THE BIRD by Angus Hyland and Kendra Wilson (Laurence King, £12.95; offer price, £11.95)
You don’t have to be a twitcher to love this picture book for adults that children will enjoy, too. Delightful avian images of all sorts are interspersed with the occasional page of fact.

The authors are keen to remind us of the symbolism of many of these creatures. Who does not salute a single magpie? And we all know that, apart from being linked to the Holy Spirit, the dove is an international symbol of peace.

Then there is a plethora of collective nouns, some of them frankly bizarre. We might all know a murder of crows but... a bellowing of bullfinches and a twack of ducks?

The book features familiar works by masters such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Braque, Picasso and Craigie Aitchison, as well as contemporary expressions by Jeffrey Fisher and Juliette Bates, whose blackvelvet- robed woman is upstaged by the crow or raven in her hand.

The publication of this book is auspicious: by the time it starts flying off the shelves, there may be more than a fledgling or two trying to join the dawn chorus.
Robin Dutt

books-marriagesMARRIAGES ARE MADE IN BOND STREE T by Penrose Halson (Macmillan, £16.99; offer price, £14.99)
This is a fascinating account of true stories from a 1940s marriage bureau started by two young and enterprising women: brigadier’s daughter Heather Jenner and farmer’s daughter Mary Oliver.

With naivety, determination and an instinctive talent for matchmaking, they set up their marriage bureau in 1939 – a time when ‘nobody, rich or poor, was used to talking much about themselves’.

Within weeks, it attracted so much press attention that applicants poured in. Its original remit to find wives for expatriate men expanded to men and women from all levels of society.

The stories of the clients are riveting, but so too are those of the staff – like ‘the Perfect Secretary’, a flawless typist who transforms coffee table book herself from mouse to menace and has to be hidden to avoid frightening prospective clients.

Writing with affection and humour, Penrose Halson, who eventually became the bureau’s owner, concludes with an appendix: ‘Requirements of Female and Male Clients 1939-1949’. The sensible Mary and Heather saw through them all: ‘Rather lumpy, not bad looking’ was how they described one candidate. Nothing missed their sharp eyes.
Gillian Spickernell


books-book-of-the-weekSeven Lives
A HOUSE FULL OF DAUGHTERS by Juliet Nicolson (Chatto & Windus, £16.99; offer price, £14.99)
‘In my family, parents always seem to be escaping when their children need them most,’ writes Juliet Nicolson in her brilliant, incisive exploration of seven generations of women. Daughterhood, with its tug between dependence and independence, is the central theme, deftly examined with insight and compassion, but none of the clichés or pop psychology that mar other books on the subject.

It is a riveting read. It helps that Nicolson’s ancestors were so fascinating: explosively alluring flamenco dancer Pepita; strikingly beautiful society hostess Victoria; the writer Vita Sackville-West. From the backstreets of mid-19th-century Malaga to the splendour of Knole and Sissinghurst, Nicolson gets under the skin of places as much as people. A sense of place, both grounding and trapping, is indeed one of the patterns emerging from her study, along with maternal jealousy, fear of intimacy and addiction.

The chapters on Pepita, Victoria and Vita depict lost worlds of glamour, triumph and tragedy. But as she moves closer to her present, through the story of her mother Philippa and her own struggle with alcoholism, the tone changes from elegiac to disarmingly honest – without a trace of self-pity.

Ending on a note of hope and redemption, with chapters on the author’s daughters and granddaughter, this is an elegantly written meditation on family, identity and the impact of the past.
Juanita Coulson


SCOTTISH ARTISTS 1750-1900: From Caledonia To The Continent by Deborah Clarke and Vanessa Remington (Royal Collection Trust, £19.95; offer price, £16.95)
The Royal Family has long been keen on Scottish artists: accompanying the exhibition at Buckingham Palace, this catalogue features paintings, drawings and miniatures collected by monarchs from George III to the Queen. Showcasing work by Allan Ramsay and Sir David Wilkie, it explores how they drew inspiration from Scottish life.

books-coffee-table-bookJohn Phillip, The Letter Writer of Seville

As Prince Charles comments in the preface, ‘their work reveals a distinctly Scottish vision, characterised by its naturalness, truth to life and detailed observations’. Ramsay’s depiction of George III is the most copied royal portrait of all time. George IV commissioned Wilkie’s The Penny Wedding, while Victoria and Albert favoured depictions of mountains, stags and lochs.
Rebecca Wallersteiner


CROW COUNTRY by Mark Cocker (Vintage Classics, £9.99; offer price, £9.49)
According to the publishers, the ‘nature writing market’ grew by 77 per cent between 2011 and 2015. To meet this upsurge of interest, the imprint is republishing five classics of the genre with cover art from the Scottish studio Timorous Beasties.

Titles include Helen Macdonald’s H Is For Hawk and Sean Borodale’s Bee Journal (reviewed below), as well as this book by the Norfolk-based naturalist and environmental activist Mark Cocker.

His starting point is the awe-inspiring dusk spectacle that unfolds nightly near his Yare Valley home: 40,000 rooks and jackdaws coming to roost. In part a meditation on obsession itself, this superb book asks searching questions about our engagement with the natural world.
Stephanie Cross

BEE JOURNAL by Sean Borodale (Vintage Classics, £9.99; offer price, £9.49)
First published in 2012, Bee Journal was described by the poet Alice Oswald as ‘a kind of uncut home movie of bees’. It’s a good description, since this beekeeping journal in verse form provides an intimate portrait of two years in the life of Borodale’s colony.

But the white-suited author is himself an important presence in the book, as he documents the anxietyinfused rituals of husbandry. Mesmerising.

EDEN GARDENS by Louise Brown (Headline Review, £7.99; offer price, £7.49)
The lives of Mam, her daughter Maisy, and their ayah Pushpa, in 1940s Calcutta, is a far cry from the splendour of the Raj, as they struggle to survive amid death, decay and political turmoil.

Mam, a prostitute, dreams that Maisy will lead a respectable life, but she falls into the same sordid existence as her mother, while Pushpa’s tale offers an insight into India’s caste system.

Brown’s frank descriptions, set against the hierarchy of colonial society, reveal the dark side of paradise.
Lyndsy Spence


With vegetarian week round the corner, two books prove there’s much more to ‘veggie’ than lentils and tofu. By Juanita Coulson

THE MIDDLE EASTERN VEGETARIAN COOKBOOK by Salma Hage and Alain Ducasse (Phaidon Press, £24.95; offer price, £22.95)
The Middle Eastern culinary tradition, where vegetables, pulses and grains are often the main act, chimes with current health trends: ‘good’ fats, less red meat, more plant-based food. In her new book, the author of The Lebanese Kitchen serves up over 140 Levantine-influenced vegetarian recipes that are simple but zing with enticing, exotic flavours. Perfect light dishes for summer dining include aubergine and pomegranate salad with pine nuts, but there are also sweet treats such as rosewater pancakes with pistachio and honey. Plenty to tempt even the most entrenched meat-eater.

Vegan Vegetarian Omnivore: Dinner For Everyone At The Table by Anna Thomas (WW Norton & Co, £22.99; offer price, £20.99)
We’ve all been there: cooking for a gathering that includes a vegetarian or a vegan. Or being a vegetarian whose in-laws don’t regard vegetables as food. What to do? Separate menus are a logistical nightmare, while letting vegetarians make do with side dishes comes across as mean. This eminently practical book takes the stress out of this dilemma: recipes that start with the same base can be split and adapted; others are combined with side orders of meat – all with minimum fuss and delicious results.

National Vegetarian Week runs from 16 to 24 May:

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