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The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother And Me
The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother And Me
by Sofka Zinovieff
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating and Absorbing Account, 19 Oct 2014
In Sofka Zinovieff's enticingly titled 'The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me', the 'me' of the title is Sofka; her grandmother is Jennifer Fry, the only child of Fry's Chocolate heir, Geoffrey Fry; the Mad Boy is Robert Heber-Percy - who, the author reveals, might or might not have been, her grandfather; and the Lord Berners of the title is Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson, an eccentric gay aesthete, who was Robert's partner and benefactor, and also a composer, artist and writer, who from the 1930s in his Oxfordshire home, Faringdon, entertained a whole host of the great and the glamorous, including: Igor Stravinsky; Diana and Nancy Mitford; Clarissa Churchill; Cecil Beaton; Cyril Connolly; John and Penelope Betjeman (whose horse was invited to tea); Gertrude Stein; H G Wells and his mistress, the mysterious Baroness Budberg, to name just a few.

At Faringdon, Gerald famously dyed his doves in a variety of rainbow colours and arranged amusements for his weekend guests' pleasure, but he did not always feel in a social mood, and on one occasion when Robert was entertaining some dull hunting friends in the drawing room, Gerald made himself scarce so he would not have to talk to them. Realizing he needed a book from the drawing room, Gerald pulled a large hearth rug over him, crawled into the room as if he were a strange animal, retrieved his book, and crawled out again. When Robert later asked him why he had behaved in this peculiar fashion, Gerald replied: "I didn't want to draw attention to myself."

In a mainly chronological fashion, the author shares with the reader Lord Berner's interesting background, of how he became involved with the much-younger, bisexual and rather wild Robert Heber-Percy; of how the very attractive Robert suddenly became the husband of the beautiful Jennifer Fry (a young woman who was emotionally neglected by her difficult, rampantly homosexual father and her delicate, neurotic mother) who never revealed whether Robert was definitely the biological father of their daughter, Victoria (Sofka's mother). As we read on we learn, unsurprisingly, that Robert's and Jennifer's marriage was not a long one, nor a successful one, and they were divorced within a few years - however, I shall leave the rest of Sofka's story (and there is a lot more) for prospective readers to discover for themselves.

This is an absolutely fascinating and totally absorbing account, where the author has written very frankly, but lovingly, about her grandparents and of the many interesting and intriguing characters who surrounded them. Sofka Zinovieff has obviously researched her subjects well and there is a huge amount to interest even those of us who may already know something about some of the vast cast of characters who appear within this book's pages. Beautifully presented, printed on thick, glossy paper and crammed full of photographs which are helpfully inserted within the text, this book (which weighs a ton!) made for a highly enjoyable and entertaining read and one that will stay on one of my bookshelves to be read and enjoyed all over again. Recommended.


La Femme De Gilles
La Femme De Gilles
by Madeleine Bourdouxhe
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.83

4.0 out of 5 stars La Femme de Gilles, 15 Oct 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
French Edition.

Elisa, the mother of twin girls and expecting her third child, is intensely, but quietly and steadfastly in love with her tall, handsome husband, Gilles. Money is short, but they live happily in a four-roomed cottage in a semi-rural area outside of a small town in Belgium, and Elisa spends her days cleaning, polishing, washing and preparing wholesome meals in readiness for Gilles' return home from work: "Overcome by the thought of his return, her body, drowning in sweetness, melting with languor, loses all its strength." However, shortly before the birth of their third child, Elisa suspects that there is something going on between her beloved husband and her sensual, amoral and empty-hearted younger sister, Victorine, and as Elisa watches on in silent horror, she realises that this is not just a flirtation, but a full-blown and very passionate affair. (No spoilers, we learn all of this very early on in the novel). Terrified of losing Gilles, Elisa resists confronting her husband or her sister and decides, instead, to suffer in silence and play the waiting game: "Whatever happened, the main thing was not to make a fuss, simply to watch, and act in subtle little ways to keep intact the love with which she had surrounded him." However, in doing so, Elisa enters into an interior world of intense and terrible anguish and one of which it is almost painful to read.

First published in 1937, Madeleine Bourdouxhe's debut novel was praised by Simone de Beauvoir (whose own novel 'L'Invitée' dealt with a 'ménage à trois') for its subtle observation of the differences between male and female sexuality, and is a beautifully written, involving and poignant read. Elisa's misery and desperation is realistically and heartbreakingly portrayed by Bourdouxhe, so much so that although I sympathised with her, I found myself becoming almost angry with her for her submissiveness and the loss of her own identity. However, it was impossible to remain annoyed with Elisa in her sad situation and I found myself wishing for a happy, or at least the possibility of an optimistic ending for her - but does Elisa get her happy ending? Obviously I have to leave that for prospective readers to discover for themselves.

4 Stars.

Please Note: I initially read this French edition in France and, although my French is nowhere near perfect, I became so drawn into Elisa's life that when I returned home I had to find an English version to check that I had fully understood the story. In addition to selling this French version, Amazon also sell an English edition: La Femme De Gilles published by Daunt (with the French title left untranslated, presumably for ambiguity) which has been ably translated by Faith Evans with an interesting 'Afterword' written by the translator.


La Femme De Gilles
La Femme De Gilles
by Madeleine Bourdouxhe
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars La Femme de Gilles, 15 Oct 2014
This review is from: La Femme De Gilles (Paperback)
Elisa, the mother of twin girls and expecting her third child, is intensely, but quietly and steadfastly in love with her tall, handsome husband, Gilles. Money is short, but they live happily in a four-roomed cottage in a semi-rural area outside of a small town in Belgium, and Elisa spends her days cleaning, polishing, washing and preparing wholesome meals in readiness for Gilles' return home from work: "Overcome by the thought of his return, her body, drowning in sweetness, melting with languor, loses all its strength." However, shortly before the birth of their third child, Elisa suspects that there is something going on between her beloved husband and her sensual, amoral and empty-hearted younger sister, Victorine, and as Elisa watches on in silent horror, she realises that this is not just a flirtation, but a full-blown and very passionate affair. (No spoilers, we learn all of this very early on in the novel). Terrified of losing Gilles, Elisa resists confronting her husband or her sister and decides, instead, to suffer in silence and play the waiting game: "Whatever happened, the main thing was not to make a fuss, simply to watch, and act in subtle little ways to keep intact the love with which she had surrounded him." However, in doing so, Elisa enters into an interior world of intense and terrible anguish and one of which it is almost painful to read.

First published in 1937, Madeleine Bourdouxhe's debut novel was praised by Simone de Beauvoir (whose own novel 'L'Invitée' dealt with a 'ménage à trois') for its subtle observation of the differences between male and female sexuality, and is a beautifully written, involving and poignant read. Elisa's misery and desperation is realistically and heartbreakingly portrayed by Bourdouxhe, so much so that although I sympathised with her, I found myself becoming almost angry with her for her submissiveness and the loss of her own identity. However, it was impossible to remain annoyed with Elisa in her sad situation and I found myself wishing for a happy, or at least the possibility of an optimistic ending for her - but does Elisa get her happy ending? Obviously I have to leave that for prospective readers to discover for themselves.

4 Stars.

Please Note: I initially read the French edition of this novel in France and, although my French is nowhere near perfect, I became so drawn into Elisa's life that when I returned home I had to find an English version to check that I had fully understood the story. This attractively presented edition by Daunt (with the French title left untranslated, presumably for ambiguity) has been ably translated by Faith Evans and she has also written an interesting 'Afterword' for the English-speaking reader .


Behind the Mask: The Life of Vita Sackville-West
Behind the Mask: The Life of Vita Sackville-West
by Matthew Dennison
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good in Parts. (3.5 Stars), 12 Oct 2014
Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962) renowned gardener, novelist, travel writer and gardening writer, is the subject of Matthew Dennison's aptly-titled biography: 'Behind the Mask'. Vita, only child of Lionel, 3rd Lord Sackville and his wife, Victoria, grew up at Knole, in Kent, a huge Tudor-built stately home with 365 rooms and 52 staircases, a home which she loved ardently and knew she would, as a female, be unable to inherit. Vita's mother, Victoria (the illegitimate half-Spanish daughter of the 2nd Lord Sackville) was a passionate and difficult woman who did not give Vita sufficient or consistent affection, but felt no qualms about sacking Vita's nannies once she thought Vita was becoming too fond of them. Her father, Lionel, was pre-occupied with his own life and with his succession of mistresses, and Vita, a proud, secretive and solitary child, who did not find it easy to form friendships with other children, spent her time dressing up and roaming through the vast house, imagining herself to be one of her ancestors: 'at one with the portraits and historic artefacts which surrounded her: the silver furniture made for James I in the King's Room; the paintings by Holbein, Frans Hals, Van Dyck and Gainsborough;[and] the heraldic leopards which prompted her to verse.'

Vita began her schooling at Helen Woolff's School for Girls in London at the age of thirteen, where she became friendly with (and physically attracted to) Rosamund Grosvenor, a relation of the Duke of Westminster, and also with the Violet Keppel (the daughter of Mrs Keppel, the mistress of King Edward VII) who fell deeply in love with the dark, handsome, heavy-lidded Vita, attracted by her appearance and personality which appeared to embrace both the masculine and feminine aspects of her character. Some years later, however, Vita temporarily put aside her feelings for both Rosamund and Violet, and married Harold Nicolson, a seemingly affable young diplomat, who was, like Violet and Rosamund, attracted by Vita's darkly handsome looks and her sexual ambivalence. Vita regarded Harold to be an ideal companion and someone with whom she felt she could talk to about anything, and Harold, apparently, felt the same, for a few years after their marriage and the birth of their two boys, Harold confessed his homosexuality to Vita, and the fact that he had contracted venereal disease from a sexual liaison with another man. Vita's response, after the initial shock and then her assurance to Harold of her continuing affection for him, was to embark upon a passionate and potentially disastrous love affair with Violet Keppel - however, I shall leave this and the rest of Vita's life for prospective readers to discover for themselves, and there is a lot more to Vita's life - including her affair with Dorothy Wellesley, her relationship with Virginia Woolf, and the creation with Harold of their famous garden at Sissinghurst Castle - than I have mentioned in this review.

This is the first biography of Vita Sackville-West to be written for thirty years and Matthew Dennison has researched his subject well, showing Vita to be a creature of contradictions, who felt herself that she possessed a 'dual nature - the English half continent, married and decorous; the Spanish half passionate, homosexual and reckless' which helped her to exonerate herself from the repercussions of her actions and, indeed, to compartmentalise her feelings. The author also takes care to explain how Vita's relationship with her mother remained difficult throughout her life and of how that relationship affected Vita's personality and outlook, as did the knowledge that she would never be able to inherit her beloved Knole. However, I do have to be honest and comment that although the author has written well about certain areas of his subject's life, there were other areas that were more summarily covered, and considering this biography has been written thirty years after Victoria Glendinning's: Vita - The Life of Vita Sackville-West, I was expecting something more, hence my overall rating - which is not intended as a mediocre rating, but just that although there were some good aspects to this biography, I have to admit that I actually preferred Ms Glendinning's prize-winning account of Vita's life. If you are interested in reading further about Vita Sackville-West and also the people around her, then apart from the Glendinning biography I would recommend Diana Souhami's: Mrs Keppel and Her Daughter, which, as the title suggests, focuses on Violet Keppel and her mother. I also found Robert Sackville-West's: Inheritance: The Story of Knole and the Sackvilles and The Disinherited: A Story of Family, Love and Betrayal to be both rather interesting reads, as is Adam Nicolson's: Sissinghurst: An Unfinished History.

3.5 Stars.


The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy
The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy
by Rachel Joyce
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.45

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, 9 Oct 2014
No Spoilers.

A companion novel to Rachel Joyce's best-selling novel: The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry which recounts one man's six hundred mile trek from Devon to Northumberland to visit an old friend in a hospice before she dies, 'The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy' now tells the story from Queenie's perspective.

Queenie Hennessy has not seen Harold Fry for twenty years - a man she once secretly loved to distraction and whom she has never been able to forget. After certain events caused Queenie to leave Devon, where she first met Harold in the firm where they both worked, Queenie forced herself to start a new life in a dilapidated wooden beach house on the coast of Northumberland, putting all the love she could not give to Harold into her wonderful cliff-top sea garden. Now terminally ill and no longer able to care for herself or her much-loved garden, Queenie is now living in St Bernadine's Hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed. Feeling in very low spirits, Queenie resists attempts made by the staff to help her to integrate with the other patients, or to take any interest in the time she has left to her. However, when she learns that Harold has set off on his long journey to be at her side, and is encouraged by a new volunteer at the hospice, Sister Mary Inconnue, to write a letter to Harold, telling him the truth about events from the past, Queenie finds the will to carry on - especially when she tells Sister Mary that she is at the hospice to die and the nun replies: "Pardon me, but you are here to live until you die. There is a significant difference."

Armed with her old cream Triumph Tippa manual typewriter, the benevolent and wise Sister Mary Inconnue types out Queenie's long letter to Harold from Queenie's handwritten notes and, in this way, the reader learns interesting little snippets about Queenie's past life - of her life with her parents before she left home to study the classics at Oxford; of the time she spent in the late seventies with a group of female artists in Soho, for whom she posed naked; of the unhappy relationship she had with a man before she met Harold; and we also learn of some of the more significant events such as her secret and unrequited love for a married man, of her relationship with Harold's brilliant, but difficult son, David, and of a confession she knows she has to make. There is, of course, a lot more to Queenie's story than I have revealed here - but I shall leave the rest of her interesting tale for prospective readers to discover for themselves.

Despite this novel's setting and some of themes covered, this is an involving and very readable book - I started and finished it in virtually one sitting, totally absorbed by Queenie's narrative. The author's cast of characters is vividly portrayed, as are the settings in which she places them, and although certain aspects of the story are necessarily very sad, other parts were darkly funny, and Rachel Joyce's writing, which is often quite stunning in its clarity and simplicity, made this moving and quietly unfolding story a very worthwhile read. Recommended.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 19, 2014 1:35 AM BST


Quartet (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics)
Quartet (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics)
by Jean Rhys
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quartet, 6 Oct 2014
'Quartet' was Jean Rhys' first full-length novel, originally published in 1928, following on from her collection of stories 'The Left Bank' and, like most of Rhys' writing, is strongly auto-biographical. Set in Paris during the 1920s, the heroine of our story is Marya, a young English woman in her late twenties, who is married to Stephan, a Polish exile and 'commissionaire d'objects d'art'. Stephan, who does most of his business in cafes, tells Marya that he acts as an intermediary between Frenchmen who wish to sell, and foreigners who wish to buy, but when he is arrested and imprisoned for theft, Marya realizes that despite Stephan being a gentle and expert lover, her initial impression of him as a secretive and unreliable liar, was not very far from the truth. Left on her own, without money or any real friends, Marya, in a 'beautiful muddle' resorts to selling her dresses to the formidable Madame Hautchamp, the patronne of the cheap hotel she and Stephan have been staying in, but Marya soon realizes that she will need to do more than sell a few clothes to survive. Enter Hugh and Lois Heidler, a sophisticated and older English couple, who seem to take pity on the attractive and wide-eyed Marya, and offer to take her under their wing. However, their offer is not an entirely altruistic one, and as Marya becomes caught up in the complex life of the Heidlers, she finds her sense of reality diminishing, but can she find a way out?

Based on the author's relationship with Ford Maddox Ford, and rich in the atmosphere of a decadent Paris, with its cafes and bars, and with some evocative descriptions of Montparnasse on the Left Bank, with its narrow streets full of 'shabby parfumeries, second-hand book-stalls, cheap hat shops... and gaily painted ladies', this debut novel makes for involving and enjoyable, if poignant, reading. Jean Rhys is widely acknowledged as a writer ahead of her time, and she was a brave author who tackled themes that others might have avoided or merely alluded to; she was, in addition, unafraid to use her own life experiences to inform her writing, which accounts for the feeling of authenticity in her work. Although as a debut novel, this book does not have the perspicacity of her later work, and the ending is not entirely satisfying, it is an absorbing, sometimes disturbing account of a young woman's struggle to survive in difficult circumstances, and is a very worthwhile read. And if you do read and enjoy this book, then do try: After Leaving Mr Mackenzie (Penguin Modern Classics) which I think is even better. Recommended.

4 Stars.


Quartet (Norton Paperback Fiction) Rhys, Jean ( Author ) Mar-17-1997 Paperback
Quartet (Norton Paperback Fiction) Rhys, Jean ( Author ) Mar-17-1997 Paperback
by Jean Rhys
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quartet, 6 Oct 2014
'Quartet' was Jean Rhys' first full-length novel, originally published in 1928, following on from her collection of stories 'The Left Bank' and, like most of Rhys' writing, is strongly auto-biographical. Set in Paris during the 1920s, the heroine of our story is Marya, a young English woman in her late twenties, who is married to Stephan, a Polish exile and 'commissionaire d'objects d'art'. Stephan, who does most of his business in cafes, tells Marya that he acts as an intermediary between Frenchmen who wish to sell, and foreigners who wish to buy, but when he is arrested and imprisoned for theft, Marya realizes that despite Stephan being a gentle and expert lover, her initial impression of him as a secretive and unreliable liar, was not very far from the truth. Left on her own, without money or any real friends, Marya, in a 'beautiful muddle' resorts to selling her dresses to the formidable Madame Hautchamp, the patronne of the cheap hotel she and Stephan have been staying in, but Marya soon realizes that she will need to do more than sell a few clothes to survive. Enter Hugh and Lois Heidler, a sophisticated and older English couple, who seem to take pity on the attractive and wide-eyed Marya, and offer to take her under their wing. However, their offer is not an entirely altruistic one, and as Marya becomes caught up in the complex life of the Heidlers, she finds her sense of reality diminishing, but can she find a way out?

Based on the author's relationship with Ford Maddox Ford, and rich in the atmosphere of a decadent Paris, with its cafes and bars, and with some evocative descriptions of Montparnasse on the Left Bank, with its narrow streets full of 'shabby parfumeries, second-hand book-stalls, cheap hat shops... and gaily painted ladies', this debut novel makes for involving and enjoyable, if poignant, reading. Jean Rhys is widely acknowledged as a writer ahead of her time, and she was a brave author who tackled themes that others might have avoided or merely alluded to; she was, in addition, unafraid to use her own life experiences to inform her writing, which accounts for the feeling of authenticity in her work. Although as a debut novel, this book does not have the perspicacity of her later work, and the ending is not entirely satisfying, it is an absorbing, sometimes disturbing account of a young woman's struggle to survive in difficult circumstances, and is a very worthwhile read. And if you do read and enjoy this book, then do try: After Leaving Mr Mackenzie (Penguin Modern Classics) which I think is even better. Recommended.

4 Stars.

Please Note: I have two copies of this novel - the American Norton edition and the Penguin edition. Although the American edition is very attractively presented, the Penguin edition Quartet (Penguin Modern Classics) has an interesting and helpful introduction, which you may find useful if you do not know the author's work.


The Soul of Discretion: Simon Serrailler Book 8 (Simon Serrailler 8)
The Soul of Discretion: Simon Serrailler Book 8 (Simon Serrailler 8)
by Susan Hill
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.91

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Soul of Discretion, 2 Oct 2014
Set in the attractive cathedral town of Lafferton with its cobbled lanes and pretty Victorian terraced town houses, Susan Hill's latest Simon Serrailler novel focuses on some very unpleasant incidents, some of which happen a little too close to home. Called into an important meeting one morning with the Chief Constable, Detective Chief Superintendent Simon Serrailler is introduced to four plain-clothes officers who are investigating cases of sexual abuse on children. One man involved, Will Fernley, has been convicted and imprisoned, but he refuses to name the other men involved in the suspected paedophile ring, and in order to help the team find the other perpetrators, Simon is asked to go undercover as an inmate at the same prison as Fernley. Absolutely no one must know - not his family, nor his girlfriend, Rachel, who has recently moved in with him, but will Simon agree to take on this particularly complex and potentially dangerous role? Meanwhile, on the home front, Simon's sister Cat, a widowed locum GP, working on her PhD, and struggling to make ends meet, is facing difficult choices about her future, and then Cat's and Simon's father, Richard, commits a surprising offence, which could have far-reaching consequences for all involved - but obviously I must leave the details of this and the rest of the story for prospective readers to discover for themselves.

I must admit to not having read a huge amount of crime fiction, but I have found that in comparison with the other detective stories I have read, Susan Hill's Simon Serrailler novels appear to be a cut above some of the others. Although this book deals with some very unpleasant themes: child abuse, rape and the discussion about what actually constitutes rape, Susan Hill focuses more on the building of her characters and on their psychological make-up rather than on gruesome or gratuitous details and that may be why I find her Simon Serrailler novels a more intelligent, involving and relevant read than some of the other crime novels I have read in the past. Although there were a couple of aspects to the plot that I did not find entirely convincing, Susan Hill is a very versatile and accomplished writer and overall I found this a gripping and involving story and read the whole book in one sitting. Recommended.

4 Stars.


Nora Webster
Nora Webster
by Colm Tóibín
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.99

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'Steadying Herself Against the Wind', 2 Oct 2014
This review is from: Nora Webster (Hardcover)
Our story begins in Enniscorthy, in Ireland in the late 1960s, where we meet recently widowed Nora Webster, who is in her forties and the mother of four children: Fiona, who is training to be a teacher in Dublin; Aine, at boarding school in Bunclody; and Donal and Conor, who both attend the local school. Deeply mourning the loss of her teacher husband, Maurice, Nora is finding it difficult to make ends meet and in order to provide some additional funds, she decides to sell their seaside holiday home at Cush, and takes up the offer of a poorly paid office job in the firm where she worked as a young, single woman - a job she doesn't want to do, but one she feels forced into accepting for financial reasons. As we read on, we learn that it is not just Nora who is suffering from the loss of Maurice, as all four children, especially Donal, who has developed a nervous stammer, feel his absence - but Nora, enveloped in her own grief and trying to put on a good front, has inadvertently shut her children out emotionally. However, as time passes, Nora slowly begins to emerge from her grief and, helped by her love of music and the rediscovery of her fine singing voice, she finds solace, and importantly, she also begins to find herself. There is more to Nora's story, of course, than I have revealed here, but I shall leave that for prospective readers to discover for themselves.

Colm Toibin is a writer of integrity and perception and his portrayal of the widowed Nora's grief and loneliness and of how, after her husband's death, she initially disengages with those around her, is deftly accomplished, as is her transformation as she rebuilds her life. Mr Toibin has created an interesting character in his heroine, Nora, an intelligent, but sometimes difficult woman, who is still angry about her husband's painful death, yet capable of kindness and empathy. The realities of living in a small town, where everyone knows everyone else's business, is also very well portrayed and Colm Toibin's detailed and evocative descriptions of day-to-day life in Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s, pull the reader right into Nora's world. It is true that the narrative can be rather slow-moving (so maybe not for you, if you prefer pacy, plot-driven novels), but although the pace may be measured, Mr Toibin's story is beautifully controlled, very well-observed and rewarding to read.


Vivienne Westwood
Vivienne Westwood
by Vivienne Westwood
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.00

17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vivienne Westwood, 1 Oct 2014
This review is from: Vivienne Westwood (Hardcover)
Think of Vivienne Westwood and it is almost impossible not to think of Malcolm McLaren, the Sex Pistols and, of course, the birth of the Punk Revolution. However there is, naturally, a lot more to discover about Ms Westwood's life than the Punk Rock years, both before and afterwards, as this beautifully presented publication reveals. Born Vivienne Isabel Swire in 1941, in Glossop, Derbyshire, Vivienne moved with her family to London in 1958 and enrolled in Harrow Art School. However, Vivienne did not stay long at art school as she was worried that she would not be able to make a living in the art world, and she enrolled at teacher training college and became a primary school teacher. In 1962, Vivienne married her boyfriend, Derek Westwood, and their son, Ben, was born the following year - by which time Vivienne, having been unsure about marriage from the start, shocked her family and friends by leaving Derek.

Living back at home with her parents, Vivienne met her younger brother Gordon's best friend, the "deeply inspirational and deeply scarred" art student, Malcolm McLaren. And when Vivienne was later sharing a flat with Gordon, where McLaren was crashing out in the box bedroom, they became more friendly and, after a while, he began sharing Vivienne's bed. Vivienne, who says that she wasn't initially particularly sexually attracted to McLaren, but found him an amazingly interesting and exciting person, became pregnant by him and although they both planned to have the pregnancy terminated, Vivienne decided she could not go ahead with it, and instead spent the money on a cashmere sweater and some turquoise tweedy material, from which she made herself a rather stylish outfit. McLaren, unsurprisingly, did not take to fatherhood, and Vivienne struggled to cope with caring for five-year-old Ben, baby Joe, all the washing, cooking and cleaning, in addition to working all day teaching large classes of children at the local state school. She tells us that when she asked Malcolm for help, he replied: ' "You could give him to me" - meaning Joe - "but if you do, I'll take him straight to Barnado's." And I knew he would have - he really would have.'

Eventually Vivienne realized she could not cope with teaching, with being a mother to two small children, and with being the often unappreciated, but much-needed partner of McLaren, so she gave up her job to spend time at home with her children. In 1971, after various other ventures involving fashion and music, Vivienne and McLaren opened their shop at 430 King's Road, where they began selling the outrageous (for the time) clothes that they designed and made themselves with the intention to: "Sell. Shock. And wait for the column inches to induce more sales." And the rest is history, but I shall leave the rest of Ms Westwood's extraordinary life story for prospective readers to discover for themselves, and there is a lot more to uncover than I have revealed here.

Written in collaboration with biographer Ian Kelly, and filled with some marvellous photographs, all printed on thick, good quality paper, and with its arresting cover picture of fashion designer, political activist and septuagenarian grandmother, Vivienne Westwood, this attractively presented book makes for a very entertaining and eye-opening read.


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