Friday, 30 May 2014

Book Reviews: 30 May

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


Books-May30-Beasts-176BEASTS: WHAT ANIMALS CAN TEACH US ABOUT HUMAN NATURE by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (Bloomsbury, £20; offer price, £16)
In this insightful book, the psychoanalyst and bestselling author explores in detail our relationship to animals, from pets to predators to the unquestioning acceptance of animal suff ering in the meat industry. Looking at human evolutionary history, he traces the origins of the subjugation of other species to the rise of agriculture, and links this convincingly with other unsavoury developments, like warfare and slavery, which are based on viewing the ‘other’ as disposable. Masson presents complex psychological and philosophical aspects of the way we perceive and relate to animals in an accessible way. Drawing on psychoanalytic theory and biological research, he paints a disturbing picture of how humans can be the most beastly of ‘beasts’, the only species with a capacity for premeditated and pointless cruelty. But his message is not entirely bleak: understanding the origins of our lack of compassion, he argues, opens up the possibility of change.

Although the point is sometimes hammered home with repetitive force, and some may disagree with his more extreme views, this is nonetheless a powerful reflection on an issue with far-reaching consequences.
Juanita Coulson

Books-May30-Curious-Career-176A CURIOUS CAREER by Lynn Barber (Bloomsbury, £16.99; offer price, £14.99)
‘More, more!’ shouted Salvador Dalí when Barber’s questions about his sex life stopped, during a four-day interview. Marianne Faithfull kept her waiting for two hours, Rafa Nadal kept his flies undone, Oliver Stone was ‘very kind’ when her front tooth fell out, but Robert Redford sat ‘stony-faced’ during her coughing fit.

Lynn Barber, nicknamed the ‘Demon Barber’ by Fleet Street, turned the celebrity interview into an art form and has now published her second memoir. It is packed with witty anecdotes and razor-sharp observations, although it reveals little about its enigmatic author’s private life (I would have liked to know more about her daughters and happy 30-year marriage). Although she spectacularly gets the stars to let down their guards, the skeletons in her own cupboard, if there are any, are firmly locked up. Funny and unputdownable, this book also provides great interview tips.
Rebecca Wallersteiner

Books-May30-Rise-And-Fall-great-Powers-176THE RISE & FALL OF GREAT POWERS by Tom Rachman (Sceptre, £14.99; offer price, £12.99)
The most addictive element in Rachman’s brilliant second novel is the personality of its female protagonist: the bookish, wry Tooly Zylberberg. Many questions remain unanswered about her past, and she sets out to solve the mystery of her unorthodox upbringing, spent with eccentric characters in various parts of the globe.

There is a constant sense that a part of Tooly’s character has not been revealed and never will be. Although warm, Tooly guards her emotions, but we still know her intimately through her reading, her perceptions of others and theirs of her.

Flanking Tooly’s travels are the transformations of the final years of the 20th century up to the present day. The detail is never overdone, the language is quirky and the novel’s structure is beautifully managed.
Philippa Williams


Books-May30-New-Sylva-176Trees of life
THE NEW SYLVA: A DISCOURSE OF FOREST AND ORCHARD TREES FOR THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY by Gabriel Hemery and Sarah Simblet (Bloomsbury, £50; o…ffer price, £45)
Did you know that blackthorn makes not only a good walking stick, but also a sound cudgel, or that, when buying a butcher’s block, you should choose hornbeam – which, owing to its resilience, is recommended for the striking mechanism in pianos?

This exquisite book, eloquently written by Gabriel Hemery and beautifully illustrated with pen-and-ink drawings by Sarah Simblet, is full of such divertimenti.

An updating of John Evelyn’s seminal work Sylva, it marks the 350th anniversary of its publication. Evelyn’s survey was biased in favour of oak, owing to its importance in 17th-century Britain. The New Sylva covers species that are economically or culturally important today, examining their biology, distribution and habitat, describing how to grow and manage them, thinking about their use value, pests and diseases, and their likely outlook for the future.

All this makes for a surprisingly fascinating read, reˆflecting as it does on a broader history of trees and the changes we have inˆ icted on them through trade, education or war – and those we are about to wreak through climate change. Simblet’s illustrations vividly highlight the aesthetic dimension of the story.
Emma Biggs


SMALL ARCHITECTURE NOW! by Philip Jodidio (TASCHEN, £34.99; offer price, £29.99’)
The striking images in this book prove that small spaces can accommodate big ideas. Unsurprisingly, many of the architects featured come from Japan, where space is at a premium and larger plots are hard to come by.


But as well as inventive housing solutions in crowded cities, there are also playful, artistic examples from around the world: a children’s playhouse in Norway, a street installation in Mexico, a doll’s house for Calvin Klein in New York. A fascinating tour of small spaces that have become a springboard for imaginative, often groundbreaking designs.


GHOSTWRITTEN by Isabel Wolff (Harper, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
Thoroughly researched, this novel sheds light on life in Japanese interment camps in the Second World War. The lives of two compelling characters, Jenni and Klara, are interwoven, their narratives flitting between Cornwall and wartime Java. Wolff ’s masterful use of the first person allows the emotions and memories of the two women to become our own. A brilliant, tender and thought-provoking read.
Lilly Cox

THE COUNTRY ESCAPE by Fiona Walker (Sphere, £7.99; offer price, £7.59)
Kat has been left in charge of an animal sanctuary in the grounds of a country estate, hers until she marries. But Hollywood heart-throb Dougie is drafted in by the mysterious new estate owner to woo Kat into wedded bliss. Dougie is your archetypal loveable rogue, while Kat is cleverly crafted as a feisty female with a dark secret. With boisterous characters and a magical forest setting, this is a moving tale of learning to trust and letting go of the past. The perfect holiday read.
Rebecca Maxted


Books-May30-What-Would-Grace-Do-176WHAT WOULD GRACE DO? HOW TO LIVE LIFE IN STYLE LIKE THE PRINCESS OF HOLLYž WOOD by Gina McKinnon (Aurum, £14.99; offer price, £12.99)
From ice queen on screen to Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly has become a byword for style. Fans of the actress will enjoy this tome, offering tips to bring Grace’s grace into everyday life, details about her life and delightful illustrations. Frothy but fun.


  • SUITE FRANÇAISE by Irène Némirovsky
  • EMPIRE OF THE SUN by JG Ballard
  • ATONEMENT by Ian McEwan


A LITTLE LOVE by Amanda Prowse, read by Julia Franklin (Whole Story Audiobooks, £20.41; no offer price)
Welcome to the world of Pru Plum, Chanelwearing Mayfair matron and bakery owner, hiding her shameful past. The plot has delicious descriptions of baking in a tale of new love in later life.


Two new biographies shed light on the experiences of fascinating but mysterious women, says Lyndsy Spence

The lives of prominent women who have carved their own paths are an enigma, as they often create a public persona to conceal a troubled or ordinary background, or shroud themselves in a cloud of obscurity. Lady In The Dark: Iris Barry And The Art Of Film by Robert Sitton (Columbia University Press, £27.50; offer price, £26) charts Barry’s life, from humble beginnings as the self-taught daughter of a palm reader to infl uential film critic, curator and intellectual, drawing on diaries, letters and Hollywood’s hidden history. Britishborn Barry was film editor at the Daily Mail in the 1920s, and later emigrated to America, where she founded the Museum of Modern Art’s film department.

Despite working with top directors on pro- American fi lms during the war, she became a victim of McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunt and fled to France, where she died in obscurity. A deserved tribute to the woman who changed the way we think about film. Growing up in a mansion in Manhattan and listed in the Social Register, Huguette Clark was a true American blue blood. The Phantom Of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark by Meryl Gordon (Grand Central Publishing, £20.99; offer price, £18.99) traces the life of the famous debutante, who plunged headfirst into the Roaring 1920s.

After several failed romances, including a brief marriage, Clark slowly withdrew from society. Dying at the age of 104, she left a $300m fortune. In a book for fans of the Mitfords and the debutante era, Gordon succeeds in bringing the phantom to life.


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