Friday, 24 June 2016

Book reviews: 24 June

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

Written by Melonie

OUT NOW

booksEnglish-VociesEnglish Voices: Lives, Landscapes, Laments 1985-2015 by Ferdinand Mount (Simon & Schuster, £25)
Ferdinand Mount knows of what he writes. Born into an upperclass intellectual family, he was brought up with rulers and writers – his cousin is David Cameron’s mother.

This is a collection of his book reviews and critical writings published in the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement and The Spectator. Do you want to know about the foibles and achievements of notable Englishmen of the last 150 years? In 2,700 words apiece, you can learn the salient points about Charles Dickens, Lord Palmerston, Virginia Woolf, Cardinal Hume and Germaine Greer, along with 46 other important churchmen, politicians, sportsmen and writers. His prose is erudite, accessible and waspishly witty – and thus highly enjoyable to read.

Mount doesn’t mince his words, and on occasion unflinchingly details the failings of his subject as an opening gambit: ‘I never liked EM Forster much. He was too preachy and prissy, too snobbish about the suburbs…’ Ouch. He was head of the No. 10 Policy Unit under Margaret Thatcher, and starts with why she was universally loathed and despised by her colleagues. From there, he can only get more appreciative of his subject’s contribution to English life, and he does this with consideration and balance.

If you want to explore the subjects further, you can always track down the titles he has reviewed. But, with concise and insightful pieces, this is the perfect self-improvement book.
Hugh St Clair

books-Golden-HillGolden Hill by Francis Spufford (Faber & Faber, £16.99)
After more than two decades of writing non-fiction books on everything from Soviet economics to Antarctica, Spufford has produced an astonishing debut novel that transports the reader to New York a generation before the American Revolution.

Written in a quaint period style reminiscent of Henry Fielding and Tobias Smollett, it is the tale of handsome, young Richard Smith, who arrives at a counting house one rainy November evening in 1746, fresh off the boat from England, clutching a £1,000 bill. It is a colossal sum that could devastate the colony’s fledgling economy. What does Smith need it for? Is he a go-getting entrepreneur, a French spy, or a devious crook? Just as in Smollett’s novels, his mysterious appearance sets in motion dramatic and often comic events – including a steamy seduction, a sword fight and a spell in prison.

An entertaining, compulsively readable book, full of twists and turns that keep you guessing till the end.
Rebecca Wallersteiner




BOOK OF THE WEEK

books-book-of-the-weekHome and away
IN THE COUNTRY by Mia Alvar (Oneworld Publications, £8.99)
The experience of being an outsider, unmoored by migration, travel or a failure to connect, is the engine powering the nine short stories in Alvar’s assured debut collection.

Their cast mainly comprises members of the Filipino diaspora: thriving or striving abroad, or returning to their birthplace, which has become disconcertingly alien and familiar at once. A New York-based pharmacist visits his dying, once-violent father – and discovers an unexpected edge in his submissive mother’s character. A specialneeds teacher in Bahrain is baffled by the expectations and self-delusion of a disabled child’s rich Arab mother.

Filipinos are constantly mistaken for servants, even those in positions of power, like the diplomat’s wife evicted from the hotel pool. Even the lucky, well-off ones live ‘like villagers at the foot of a volcano, hoping never to offend the gods’. But prejudice cuts both ways, as a struggling American model finds on a work trip to Manila. An arrogant local male model snipes at her: ‘I’ve never had to leave my country to find work’ – these expertly handled shifts in power dynamics are a hallmark of the stories.

With arresting imagery and characters that are intriguing beneath their seeming ordinariness, these are powerful tales that evoke a sense of place, while exploring identity and displacement.
Juanita Coulson

COFFEE TABLE BOOK

FRANS LANTING: EYE TO EYE by Christine Eckstrom (Taschen, £27.99)

books-coffee-table-bookA great horned owl in California and an owl butterfly in Peru

Dutch wildlife photographer and naturalist Frans Lanting has spoken of his close encounters with wild animals – albatrosses on a Pacific island, lemurs in Madagascar – as ‘times when I learned to see the world through other eyes’. The stunning wildlife images collected in this book distil two decades of his awardwinning work: exquisite, haunting compositions that seek to reveal his subjects’ ‘strength and dignity in nature’. From a crocodile’s menacingly blurred jaws to a great horned owl’s piercing, acid-yellow stare, his images are majestic, and bring the viewer hypnotically into the subject’s gaze, in a thoughtprovoking role reversal.
JC

PAPERBACKS
books-paperbacks

CAREER OF EVIL by Robert Galbraith (Sphere, £7.99)
Robin Ellacott works for the terrifyingly named private detective Cormoran Strike. When she is sent a severed leg in the post, Cormoran suspects that one of four men from his past might be responsible. The police begin investigating, but Cormoran and Robin follow their own lines of enquiry to search for the killer.

The third book in the Cormoran Strike series is an unpredictable and riveting journey through a dangerous underworld of crime and revenge. ‘Galbraith’ (we all know by now whose nom de plume it is) visits increasingly dark areas of the human psyche. A deliciously absorbing and at times disturbing tale that will have you hooked from page one.
Rebecca Maxted

The White Road by Edmund de Waal (Vintage, £7.99)
Part personal pilgrimage, part art history and part travelogue, The White Road explores the author’s obsession with porcelain and his own development as a potter. His journey takes him to important places in the history of this precious white material: Jingdezhen in China, Dresden and Cornwall – the ‘white hills’ where its key ingredients are sourced.

Imported from China, porcelain was collected by Marco Polo, Chairman Mao and Augustus II of Saxony among others, but its manufacturing process remained a secret in Europe until the 17th century. After many had tried and failed, a German alchemist and a mathematician hit upon the right formula: a mixture of petuntse and kaolin, fired at high temperatures. De Waal is himself relieved when his journey is over and he is back in his studio, throwing white pots.

This is a stylishly written account with a surprisingly spiritual dimension. Engrossing, if a little slow in the middle.
RW

YOU HAD ME AT MERLOT by Lisa Dickenson (Sphere, £7.99)
The epitome of feelgood summer chick lit, this brims with fun-inthe- sun escapades and plenty of wine.

Career-driven and chronically single, Elle is dragged on a singles holiday by her unluckyin- love best friend. Staying at a vineyard under the Tuscan sun, predictably, she meets a significant someone – leading to a depiction of the quintessential holiday romance. But it’s not all plain sailing, as Elle fights off the unwanted advances of an ageing lothario and deals with the unexpected arrival of her boss – all to great comic effect. Perfect poolside reading.
Lilly Cox


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