Thursday, 17 May 2012

Book reviews: 18 May

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Culture-Books-PeachesFor-Monsiuer-176PEACHES FOR MONSIEUR LE CURÉ Joanne Harris (Doubleday, £18.99)

The final volume in Joanne Harris's bestselling Chocolat trilogy fi nds the witchy heroine, Vianne Rocher, returning to Lansquenet-sous- Tannes, home of her first chocolaterie. It's eight years since she moved away from the rural southwest and a new influx of visitors has shaken up the sleepy hamlet. The far side of the river is now home to a thriving Moroccan community and a pretty minaret graces the village skyline. Father Reynaud, Vianne's one time adversary, faces challenges from his flock and a popular new priest.

Chocolat was set during Lent; Peaches opens during Ramadan. As the hot summer progresses, Vianne gets to view xenophobia and intolerance first hand as the country gets fired up over the question of the wearing of the Islamic veil. The tight-lipped curé finds an unexpected ally in the all-seeing and kindly Vianne. But the novel is much more than an exercise in community relations. Fasting and feasting, magic and mysticism are again at the heart of this author's storytelling sorcery.

Emma Hagestadt



 


 

UNDERGROUND, OVERGROUND Andrew Martin (Profi le Books, £14.99)

Those who watched the recent television series recounting behind-the-scenes life on Culture-Books-Underground-Overground-176the Tube will be under no illusion about the miraculous way in which the London Underground continues to work. Or, if you actually live in London, why it doesn't.

Andrew Martin's book proceeds along the same lines as that excellent programme, but adds social history, notes on the men who shaped the Tube (Charles Yerkes, Charles Pearson and Whitaker Wright) and pages of fascinating facts. The Lost Property Office, for instance, opened in 1933 and nothing is ever thrown away. When Martin last visited, that included a barrister's wig, a traffic lollipop reading 'Stop: Children Crossing' and a giant, furry fluorescent orange maggot.

The Central Line, once a pale orange on the map, now red, was the 'shopping line' due to its proximity to Oxford Street. Indeed, Gordon Selfridge had 'wanted a tunnel connection between Bond Street station to the basement of his new store, and he wanted Bond Street station to be called Selfridges'. The Victoria Line was the first to use automatic ticket barriers. In 1919, hustlers were employed on the District Line platforms at Victoria to coordinate the boarding of busy trains; and early Underground trains were 'essentially ordinary steam trains that just happened to be running below the streets in the middle of London'.

For modern-day passengers and for those Olympic ticket holders not blessed with a pass to travel on the Kremlin-like freeways into town, 2012 will be a year of Tube-dependence. There simply won't be another way of getting round town. How will the network cope, when even pre-Jubilee, pre-Olympic crowds have pretty much brought the Victoria Line, for one, to its knees? Andrew Martin doesn't have the answer to that, but he does show, through the history of this astonishing organisation, that it will almost certainly muddle through.

Lola Sinclair

 


 

THE FORRESTS Emily Perkins (Bloomsbury Publishing, £12.99)

Culture-books-the-forrests-176Long before its publication, The Forrests was being tipped for the 2012 Booker Prize. For once, the hype can be believed: this novel, the fourth by New Zealander Emily Perkins, is outstanding.

At the end of the 1960s, Frank and Lee Forrest emigrate to Auckland from New York. In tow are their children: Evelyn, Dorothy, Ruth and Michael.

Eve and Dot, a year apart in age, are united by a hatred of their father, whose professional and financial failures haven't damaged his 'excess of entitlement'. And they are also united in their desire for Michael's best friend, Daniel.

Perkins's plot is simple: her protagonists grow up, fall in love and have children. Time passes and in some ways also stands still; a single life is seen to encompass many selves. There is tragedy and intrigue but much of the drama is off-stage, with years elapsing between chapters. Yet this is can't-put-down stuff: a bit like a novelistic version of director Terrence Malick's Oscarnominated The Tree Of Life. To call Perkins an acute observer doesn't begin to do justice to her almost extrasensory powers, and on motherhood in particular she is exceptional. A book of the year and then some.

Stephanie Cross


MUST READ

Beyond the Jubilee

GRANTA 119: Britain (Granta, £12.99)

Britain, but not as you'd know it from the red, white and blue fervour ushering in the Diamond Jubilee. Granta's latest quarterly magazine, decorated with a jacket photograph of a broken teacup (how symbolic can you get?) focuses on a rougher, edgier side of British life. There are some great contributions, including a terrific piece by Robert Macfarlane, exploring the murky history of the English landscape as he walks the Broomway, Britain's 'deadliest path', a three-mile Essex track. Other writers turn a forensic eye on council estates, disaffected youth, office life and the idea of 'home'. Contributors include Mark Haddon and the poet Simon Armitage

Carolyn Hart


BOOK OF THE WEEK

All that jazz

Michael Prodger revels in the unconventional life of a 'stray' Rothschild

THE BARONESS Hannah Rothschild (Virago, £20)

Culture-Books-00-176To them that hath... Hannah Rothschild is not only a member of one of the most illustrious of dynasties but had to look no further than her own great-aunt for the most extraordinary of subjects for her fi rst book. Less well-connected biographers must be spitting tacks, but as the author's father, the fourth Baron Rothschild says, her family is so scattered he is not 'surprised to have mislaid a near relation'.

The stray Rothschild in question is Nica, shortened from Pannonica (the name of a moth), who was born in 1913 into a family of stifling convention and luxury and who rejected wealth and heritage for a completely unexpected, if equally alien, life. As a child at Tring Park in Hertfordshire her daily walks were through the wandering kangaroos, giant tortoises and emus that had the run of the park; as an adult she cruised New York's seedier districts in a Bentley convertible, dropping in at one jazz dive after another.

Her route between existences was one of breath-taking zigzags. After a fi nishing school in Paris 'operated by wig-wearing lesbian sisters' she came out (as a deb) in 1932. Then she met and married Jules de Koenigswarter, spent her honeymoon smoking opium in China and bought a chateau in France.

When the war came she escaped just before the Nazis arrived, eventually joining the Free French Army and, against orders, following her husband's regiment to Africa and every other major theatre of war.

With peace she had two epiphanies: she grew bored with her husband and she discovered jazz as a quasi-religious calling. Decamping to New York, she hung out with musicians, giving them financial support and whatever benefits her name could bring. She slept until four in the afternoon surrounded by cats, listening to records and emerging to go out at midnight.

When she met the troubled pianist Thelonious Monk, he became her mission in life. They were not lovers, says Hannah, although they undoubtedly loved each other. Nica supported the drugged, drunk and deranged Monk for the next 30 years, almost going to prison for him when his marijuana was found in her car. She treated this scandal, as well as her wider notoriety as a white woman consorting with black men in racially divided America, with equal insouciance.

Although Hannah Rothschild doesn't quite stifl e the suspicion that Nica was, at heart, more groupie than muse, hers is a richly-toned account of a life as improvised as one of Monk's jazz pieces.


PAPERBACKS

LUCKY BUNNY Jill Dawson (Sceptre, £8.99)

Queenie is wicked – a genius at stealing and survival, a girl who has made it her business to graduate from petty theft in the East End to more glamorous crimes in Soho in the 1950s. Great period detail and a narrative that whisks along.

Carolyn Hart

LEMON SHERBET AND DOLLY BLUE Lynn Knight (Atlantic Books, £8.99)

Autobiographical story of a family who ran a corner shop in the mining community of Wheeldon Mill, who also took in three lost children over three generations: Knight's great-grandfather, a fairground boy given away by his parents, her great-aunt, rescued from an industrial school in 1909 and her mother, adopted as a baby in 1930. 'Warm, human and well-written' said Hilary Mantel.

Carolyn Hart

GIN O'CLOCK: The Queen [of Twitter] (Hodder Paperbacks, £8.99)

Twitter sensation @Queen_UK reveals 'extracts from the Royal diary', a spoof version of 2011's most prominent events, according to 'The Queen.' Gin O'Clock covers the Royal Wedding, the phonehacking scandal and the wedding of Zara Phillips, in the form of correspondence with Mrs 'It's Carole' Middleton, the DofE, and chain-smoking Camilla. You don't have to be Twitter-adept to enjoy.

Edwina Langley


ALSO PUBLISHED

THE GREAT ANIMAL ORCHESTRA Bernie Krause (Profile Books, £12.99)

Discovering the origins of music in the wild – including notes on the three-quarter time waltz of Pacific tree frogs, a chorus of gibbons and the high-pitched ping of a bat.

DAM BUSTERS: THE RACE TO SMASH THE DAMS 1943 James Holland (Bantam Press, £20)

Tension, excitement, patriotism: a stirring analysis of the 1943 mission to destroy three German dams with Barnes Wallis's famous bouncing bombs.


CAROLYN HART'S NOTES ON GARDENS

Culture-Garden-Books-590

AN ARTIST IN THE GARDEN Tessa Newcomb and Jason Gathorne-Hardy (Full Circle Editions, £25)

Diary of the 200-year-old walled kitchen garden at Great Glemham House in East Suffolk. Gathorne- Hardy grew up here, so knows the garden intimately. His descriptions of the land, the history and the seasonal round, coupled with Tessa Newcomb's dreamy chalk drawings, make this a seductive read. Add a foreword by Ronald Blythe and you've got the perfect gardening read.

THE GLORY OF THE GARDEN Edited by Sam Carter and Kate Gatacre (Simon & Schuster, £12.99)

Billed as a horticultural celebration, this collection of articles, letters, pictures of weirdly shaped potatoes and gardening advice culled from the pages of Country Life since 1897, is irresistible. Perhaps few people would give vegetable marrows credit for intelligence,' writes Ellinor Close in 1917, 'but I have been watching one at Yarne, near Cobham, with great interest.' Her marrow had been using pea sticks to lever itself up a hedge. Obviously a thing of wonder, rather than despair, the Yarne marrow would have made the ideal subject for a 21st-century webcam.

THE MEADOW Barney Wilczak (Frances Lincoln, £16.99)

Stunning photographs recording the seasonal changes in an English meadow at Clattinger Farm in Wiltshire. Insects, individual flowers and drifts of common spotted orchids, yellow bedstraw and common knapweed. Glorious.

VEGETABLES Evelyne Bloch-Dano (University of Chicago Press, £13)

An eccentric tour of a French kitchen garden, with 'biographies' of 10 vegetables. Winter peas at Versailles in 1660 and the history of Cinderella's pumpkin fi gure.



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