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Family and Friends
Family and Friends
by Anita Brookner
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars (3.5 Stars) Family and Friends, 26 July 2015
This review is from: Family and Friends (Paperback)
Anita Brookner's novel 'Family and Friends' focuses on the wealthy Dorn family, who are of German descent, but have settled in England where the family business is prospering. The matriarch of the family is Sofka, a widow, who has four children: the charming, pleasure-seeking Frederick, who is very popular with the many young women who surround him; the quiet, thoughtful Mireille (Mimi) with her beautiful auburn hair and her love of music; the bold, flirtatious, amoral Babette (Betty) who loves to dance and who longs to escape from the restraints put on her by her mama; and the youngest: Alfred, a studious, hard-working young man who is prematurely propelled into the family business so that Frederick, who finds work related matters rather tedious, can play more of a subsidiary role in the business. Yet despite Mimi's and Alfred's steadiness and reliability and their wish to please their mother, it is Frederick and Betty who are Sofka's favourites, and who she most indulges, yet both are keen to escape from home and leave their old lives behind them. However, Alfred and Mimi are not quite as steady as their mama thinks, for they have hidden desires of their own, and as the years pass, and our four Dorns move from youth into middle-age, ultimately do we witness any of them achieving the kind of life they hoped for?

An elegantly written, but cool and rather sombre tale, this is a novel that I find a little difficult to rate fairly using Amazon's star system. There were parts to this story which I enjoyed - for example, Frederick's life as a hotelier on the Riviera and his trips to Nice were beautifully described, and Betty's brief stay in Paris followed by her luxurious, but empty life in California was well-depicted - but unfortunately I didn't really care about any of these characters, who start off with so much in life, but who fail to make the most of what they have. In addition, although I do not read Anita Brookner for the intricacies of her plots, I found this story rather uneventful, especially considering the period of time the novel covers - even the war seemed to hardly affect the characters, when one would have thought that with their family history this would have had a much greater impact, but was barely mentioned. That said, there was a nice little twist of sorts at the end of the book, and I do admire Anita Brookner's intelligent and civilised style of writing and I enjoyed her Booker Prize-winner: Hotel Du Lac. Overall, I found 'Family and Friends' to be more of a three star than a four star read, but I find it difficult to award less than four stars for the quality of Anita Brookner's prose, so it's 3.5 stars for this particular novel from me.

3.5 Stars.


A View of the Harbour (New York Review Books Classics)
A View of the Harbour (New York Review Books Classics)
by Elizabeth Taylor
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.76

4.0 out of 5 stars A Beautifully Written Story, 23 July 2015
Bertram Hemingway, ex-navy, now retired and keen to prove his prowess with a paintbrush and canvas, arrives at the coastal village of Newby, and takes a room at the pub in the harbour. Sitting on the harbour wall, in view of the lighthouse and with his sketch-book in hand, Bertram surveys the quaint, if somewhat dilapidated properties around the harbour and becomes interested in the people who live in them. Living above the Waxworks Exhibition is widow, Lily Wilson, who locks her bedroom door at nights, afraid of the 'ghostly company' downstairs in museum; at the second-hand clothes shop there is Mrs Bracey, paralysed from the hips down, a naturally inquisitive and garrulous woman, who has to rely on the comings and goings of her neighbours for entertainment; living with Mrs Bracey is her daughter, Iris, who works in the pub and spends her time imagining Laurence Olivier opening the saloon door and heading straight for her; in the big house lives the local doctor, Robert, with his novelist wife Beth, and their daughter, Prudence - twenty years old and never been kissed; and between the doctor's house and the pub, lives beautiful divorcee, Tory, who unbeknown to her friend Beth, is involved in an affair with Beth's husband, Robert. (Not a spoiler, we know this from the information on the cover of the book). When Prudence discovers that her father is involved with Tory, she is appalled, and her reaction greatly worries Robert and Tory who would hate for Beth to learn of their betrayal...

First published in 1947, this is a beautifully written story with some wonderful painterly descriptions, especially at the book's opening where the author vividly describes her harbour setting, the huddle of buildings on the seafront and the community within. On the surface it may appear that not a huge amount happens in this seaside town, but behind the closed doors and the lace curtains, we watch as flawed, but likeable characters cope with their own small disasters and dilemmas, triumphs and disappointments. Elizabeth Taylor is a marvellous writer who is able to portray her characters and their situations with compassion, perception and humour. She is excellent at describing the dynamics of mid-twentieth century middle-class family life, and she is very good at exploring the vagaries of the human heart. I always enjoy reading Elizabeth Taylor and, in addition to this novel, I can recommend: The Sleeping Beauty (VMC); A Wreath Of Roses (VMC); Blaming (Virago Modern Classics) and Palladian (VMC); and if you enjoy short stories you might be interested in: Complete Short Stories (VMC) a collection which I can recommend wholeheartedly.

4 Stars.


Palladian (VMC)
Palladian (VMC)
by Elizabeth Taylor
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Elizabeth Taylor's 'Jane Eyre', 23 July 2015
This review is from: Palladian (VMC) (Paperback)
First published in 1946, Elizabeth Taylor's second novel 'Palladian' with its salute to both Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, focuses on recently orphaned Cassandra Dashwood, an avid reader of novels, who arrives at Cropthorne Manor, a gently decaying house with a Palladian facade, to take up the post of governess to Sophy, the motherless child of widower Marion Vanbrugh. Also living at Cropthorne, is Marion's cousin, Margaret, Margaret's mother, Mrs Vanbrugh, Margaret's brother, Tom and the elderly and cantankerous Nanny who used to look after Marion's wife, Violet, before she died. Now Nanny's presence in the house is described as "...not a cook, nor a housekeeper. She only stayed because they were all frightened of her and might as well pay her wages as any of the other families she had bullied in the past forty years." As Cassandra tries to settle into life at Cropthorne Manor - not an easy task as Marion spends much of his time closeted in his library reading and cousin Tom spends most of his time drinking himself into insensibility - she finds herself musing about Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester, especially when Marion offers to teach her Greek and appears to be taking more than a purely academic interest in her. But what is the real nature of Marion's interest? Why does Tom feel the need to drink himself into oblivion? And is Cassandra really falling in love with Marion or, inexperienced and impressionable as she is, is she just seeing him as her very own Mr Rochester?

As always with the marvellous Elizabeth Taylor, this is a beautifully written, if rather quiet and tragic tale, where the author writes with her customary intelligence and perception, and also a fair amount of astringent wit. I do have to be honest, however, and say that this is not my favourite of her books - as Neel Mukherjee states in his introduction, this is a peculiarly death-haunted book (even Sophy's Siamese kitten dies pitifully) and no one - not even any of the peripheral characters - seem to lead fulfilled or contented lives. That said, this bookish novel, filled with literary references and quotations, certainly has its merits and although rather tragic in places, it's also very funny in others - particularly the sections focusing on the venomous Nanny. Although, as I have already commented, this is not my favourite of the author's novels, I think Elizabeth Taylor is a wonderful writer and I have read, enjoyed and reviewed: A View Of The Harbour; A Wreath Of Roses; Blaming; and The Sleeping Beauty and if you are interested in short stories, you might like to try: Complete Short Stories which I can wholeheartedly recommend.


Go Set a Watchman
Go Set a Watchman
by Harper Lee
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Scout's Awakening, 22 July 2015
This review is from: Go Set a Watchman (Hardcover)
This much-discussed book by Harper Lee is, I understand, neither a sequel nor prequel to 'To Kill a Mockingbird' but a newly published novel of the draft manuscript that Ms Lee presented to a New York publisher in 1957. Despite finding some aspects of the manuscript promising, editor Tay Hohoff felt she couldn't publish the novel in its draft form, and suggested to Harper Lee that instead of focusing on the adult Jean Louise ('Scout') she move her story back to the 1930s to Scout's childhood and tell her tale in a first-person narrative from Scout's perspective. Ms Hohoff, with more than twenty years experience behind her, worked very closely with Harper Lee over the next three years, helping the new author to shape and hone her story and so, from that first draft, was born the Pulitzer Prize-winning 'To Kill a Mockingbird' - much-loved by generations of the reading public. Now, more than fifty years later, Harper Lee's first manuscript has been published, apparently in more-or-less its original form as: 'Go Set a Watchman'.

Set in the 1950s, twenty years after 'To Kill a Mockingbird', in 'Go Set a Watchman' we become re-acquainted with Jean Louise (who is now twenty-six years old and living and working in New York) as she pays a return visit to her hometown of Maycomb. Her father, Atticus, now seventy-two years old, is suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, but still working as a lawyer, ably assisted by Henry Clinton (Hank), Jean Louise's 'lifelong friend', who hopes that one day she will return to Maycomb and marry him. Shortly after Jean Louise's arrival, she discovers some disturbing things about her adored father (and also about Hank) that suggest he is involved with a group of white supremacists. Jean Louise who has always worshipped her father and looked upon him as her moral guide, is so shocked that it makes her physically sick - she cannot bear to think that the Atticus she remembers from her childhood years could have racist feelings: 'She heard her father's voice talking in the warm comfortable past: "Gentlemen, if there's one slogan in this world that I believe, it is this: equal rights for all, special privileges for none."' But has Atticus really changed?

I have mixed feelings about this novel; it certainly has its good points and in some ways, is a deeper and more complex story than that told in 'To Kill a Mockingbird', but I did not enjoy this in any way as much. I was saddened to learn that Jean Louise's brother, Jem, who seemed so alive in 'To Kill a Mockingbird', had died (not a spoiler, we learn this right at the beginning of the book); I was disappointed to read that the family house with its wide front yard, its verandah and porch swing had been demolished and an ice cream parlour erected in its place (again, we learn this early on in the book); and I was very surprised by the reference to a particularly significant event which was covered at length in 'To Kill a Mockingbird', but which had a different outcome when referred to in 'Go Set A Watchman'. There are other aspects to this novel which I should like to mention, but cannot discuss these further for fear of revealing too much of the story for prospective readers.

However, despite my reservations, I did find this novel an interesting and thought-provoking read, not only from the aspect of the author's depiction of Jean Louise's belated realization that her father is neither faultless nor irreproachable - or, indeed, from its examination of racial prejudice and inequality - but I also found it very interesting to see how Harper Lee's original manuscript was re-worked and re-shaped into 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. But am I glad I read it? I'm not sure; when I revisit 'To Kill a Mockingbird', will I read about the young Jem, and think of his premature death? When Scout, Jem and Dill are playing in the yard, or swinging on the porch seat, will I be thinking about the demolition of the family house and an ice-cream parlour standing in its place? And will my opinion of Atticus and my overall enjoyment of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' be affected by having read 'Go Set a Watchman'? A difficult one to answer, and I am still not quite sure exactly how I feel about the decision to publish this book - however, it has been published, the anticipation of which has engendered huge literary interest and I just couldn't not read it.

3 Stars.

Please Note: If you are thinking of reading on this on Kindle, do consider buying the 'Whispersync for Voice' edition which means for less than the recommended retail price of the hardback, you can download both the Kindle version and the audio version and switch between listening and reading without ever losing your place. As a born-and-bred Southerner, actress Reese Witherspoon's narration is authentic and easy to listen to and there is even some specially composed music: 'Mockingbird Waltz' which is played at intervals throughout the narration.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 22, 2015 8:21 PM BST


Home Truths
Home Truths
by Sarah Maitland
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Home Truths, 16 July 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Home Truths (Paperback)
On holiday in Zimbabwe, two British tourists disappear whilst climbing Mount Nyangani; three days later Clare is found battered and bleeding with her right hand smashed, but her boyfriend, David, is nowhere to be found. The rescuers report that after finding Clare barely conscious at the foot of a pile of shattered rocks, she confessed repeatedly that she had killed David - however, when taken to hospital, where her shattered hand is amputated, Clare says she has no memory of what happened. After three months in hospital and with post-traumatic amnesia and a prosthetic hand, Clare returns home to England and travels to Scotland with her sister, Anni, to the family home where her aristocratic mother, her vicar father, and the rest of her large family are holidaying. And it is a very large family, for not only is Clare (who was adopted into the family as a small child) one of several siblings, there are husbands and wives and nieces and nephews to add to the clan, amongst whom we meet: brother Ben, a gay vicar, who has been caught in an embarrassing situation; sister, Felicity, whose daughter, Alice, is deaf and who is reluctant to have another child in case that child is also hearing impaired; sister, Anni, a teacher who leads a single life, but not from choice, and her younger sister Ceci, who has become a nun. As the family spend their days hunting, fishing and shooting, and involved in family rituals, the reader learns about certain aspects of their lives including: sibling rivalries and resentments, the art of self-deception, the vagaries of human nature and the nature of faith. We also learn that before the trip to Africa, Clare had stopped loving David, yet found herself unable to break away from their relationship - but although she wanted him dead, did she actually kill him?

This is a well-written, intelligent and intriguing story and one in which religion and mysticism play a significant role; it's also about moving forward and taking risks - however, although I enjoyed Sarah Maitland's writing and her descriptions of Scotland, and I was keen to discover what had really happened on the mountain in Zimbabwe, there were aspects to this novel that didn't work quite so well for me. I found the large amount of characters in the story meant that I had to keep reminding myself who was whom (something I don't normally have a problem with) and I found that I wasn't as interested or as involved in the characters' lives as I felt I should have been and, therefore, did not become as caught up in their dilemmas as I would have expected. (I also found the author's constant reference to Clare's prosthetic hand as "The Hand", rather irritating). All of that said, this was an interesting and unusual story and although I would most probably not revisit this particular novel, I am now interested in reading more from Sara Maitland - I actually have her:Three Times Table somewhere on one of my bookshelves and I am now looking forward to reading and reviewing that too.

3.5 Stars.


A Passionate Man (Unabridged)
A Passionate Man (Unabridged)
Offered by Audible Ltd

3.0 out of 5 stars (3.5 Stars) A Passionate Man, 13 July 2015
Joanna Trollope's third novel 'A Passionate Man' centres on Archie Logan, a country GP, and his wife, Liza, a part-time teacher and mother to their three children, Thomas, Mikey and Imogen. They live in a solid Victorian villa surrounded by beech trees, set on the edge of the village of Stoke Stratton: "...in a wide, shallow trout-stream valley sloping down through the gentle chalky hills to Winchester." Years before, Archie met the pretty, red-haired Liza at a party to celebrate her engagement to Hugo Grant-Jones, and within a day had laid siege to stealing her away from Hugo, taking her off to Scotland to his father's home on the shore of Loch Fyne, where he kept her for two glorious weeks - by the end of which Liza, instead of wearing the sapphire and diamond ring bought for her by Hugo, was now wearing a battered old half-hoop of garnets that had belonged to Archie's dead mother. Now several years later, the Logans are comfortably settled into married life, both enjoying their country home, their jobs and, most of all their children. However, Liza worries about Archie's overly-intense relationship with his adored widower father, Sir Andrew, who devoted years to bringing Archie up single-handedly, a relationship which, despite her deep affection for Andrew, sometimes makes her feel jealous and resentful - especially when Sir Andrew arranges for Thomas to attend a boarding school, against Liza's (unspoken) wishes, where he is unsettled and unhappy. When Sir Andrew meets the very attractive American divorcee, Marina de Breton, and the pair embark on a serious and passionate relationship, Archie, feeling shocked and excluded, just cannot cope with the situation at all. His behaviour infuriates Liza who thinks her husband is being particularly immature and then a whole series of events are set in motion which brings Liza's and Archie's seemingly perfect marriage to the brink of collapse.

As always with Joanna Trollope, this is a well-written, perceptive and deftly described examination of middle-class family life and of what goes on beneath the surface of a seemingly successful marriage, especially when something happens to upset the equilibrium of that marriage. As one of the characters in the novel points out: "Every marriage has its own balance. It's a natural balance. Liza's tried to tip theirs a bit, that's all." But that's not all - and it's not necessarily Liza's actions that upset the balance, and I have to admit to becoming as frustrated with Archie's behaviour as Liza does, except that I then became irritated with Liza for the way in which she copes with the situation - but I cannot explain further without revealing too much of the story and spoiling it for prospective readers. What I can say is that much as I enjoy Ms Trollope's novels for downtime reading, and much as I appreciate the author's ability to depict middle-England family and village life, I didn't really sympathise with either Liza or Archie as much as I would have liked (except for their dilemma over poor Thomas's unhappiness at boarding school) and felt that with so much that was good in their lives, they really ought to have been able to cope better with the problems that came their way. That said, I enjoyed the author's descriptions of the Logans' home-life; I especially enjoyed the depiction of Bradley Hall, the small, independent preparatory school housed in a lovely, but decaying eighteenth century building where Liza teaches part-time, and I was very much entertained by Ms Trollope's descriptions of the eccentric owners of Bradley Hall: the delightfully vague June Hampole, and her rather unorthodox brother, Dan. So although I do not consider this novel to be one of Joanna Trollope's best (and not as good as: The Choir; A Spanish Lover or The Rector's Wife) I found that for commuter listening (I downloaded the audio version from Audible, very ably narrated by Eleanor Bron) this worked quite well for me.

3.5 Stars.


To Kill a Mockingbird by Lee, Harper published by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2005)
To Kill a Mockingbird by Lee, Harper published by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2005)
by N/A
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's a Sin to Kill a Mockingbird, 10 July 2015
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Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-Winning 'To Kill a Mockingbird' is a book that hardly needs an introduction, but for the very few who may need one, a brief outline follows. Set in Maycomb, a sleepy, close-knit town in Alabama, during the Great Depression in the 1930s, this novel is told from the perspective of 'Scout' Finch, who lives with her brother, Jem, and their widower father, Atticus, a lawyer. When Dill Harris, a young boy, comes to stay with their next-door neighbour for the school summer holidays, the three children develop a deep fascination with Boo Radley, a recluse who lives in a creepy old house on their street, who has not set foot outside of the family home for decades, and who Jem and Dill plan to coax out into the open. Their plans do not immediately come to fruition, but later the Finch children have other things to focus on when Atticus agrees to defend a young black man, Tom Robinson, who is accused of raping a white woman. Atticus, aware of the hostility his decision has generated within the community, feels he would not be able to look his children in the eye if he did not stand up for his principles; he tells his daughter: "Tom Robinson's case is something that goes to the essence of a man's conscience - Scout, I couldn't go to church and worship God if I didn't try to help that man." But Atticus's noble act sets in motion a chain of events which has lasting consequences for all involved.

I first read 'To Kill a Mockingbird' (from choice) when I was in junior school, when the symbolic meaning of this relevant, powerful and moving story most probably went over my head, but I also re-read it more than once during my teenage years where the themes of prejudice, inequality, morality, superstition, the examination of different kinds of bravery and the loss of childhood innocence, revealed themselves in more depth with each reading, and where unforgettable lines such as: "...shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" lodge themselves in the memory so that they are quotable almost without reference to the book - however, I must confess that before this most recent re-reading, I hadn't picked this book up for many years. So what made me choose to re-read this now? Well, I'll admit that the imminent and very eagerly anticipated arrival of Harper Lee's second novel: Go Set a Watchman (which focuses on Scout's life some twenty years after the events in 'To Kill a Mockingbird') made me keen to refresh my memory of the original before I started the sequel, and I must say that I enjoyed every minute of it.

5 Stars.


The Book of Evidence
The Book of Evidence
by John Banville
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The Book of Evidence, 7 July 2015
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This review is from: The Book of Evidence (Paperback)
Freddie Montgomery is a man who likes to take chances, and when he discovers an acquaintance of his has a secret, he blackmails him into handing over a large amount of hush money. Freddie and his wife, Daphne, who are temporarily domiciled on a Mediterranean island, have a high old time spending the cash, but it is not until practically all of the money has been squandered that Freddie discovers it has been borrowed from a wily loan shark, who is expecting Freddie to pay him back, and quickly. Freddie leaves his wife (and their small son) and returns home to the family 'pile' in Ireland, only to discover that his widowed mother has sold all the family heirlooms, including the paintings, in order to keep her head above water. Furious that his mother has sold what Freddie considers his birthright, he storms out of the house to pay a visit to Helmut Behrens, an old friend of the family, who Freddie suspects has bought the Montgomery family's paintings for less than they were worth. When he spots a valuable Dutch master in the Behren's drawing room, Freddie concocts a hare-brained scheme to return and steal the painting - which surprisingly he manages to accomplish, but then something goes very wrong and Freddie finds himself on remand for murder (not a spoiler, we know right from the outset that Freddie is in prison facing a murder charge).

First-person narrated by the very self-absorbed (and probably psychopathic) Freddie, John Banville's 1989 Booker Prize shortlisted 'The Book of Evidence' pulls the reader into Freddie's world, and what a very unsettling place Freddie's world is. But Freddie, we soon discover, is a rather unreliable narrator, so how much of his sorry tale can we believe? And is Freddie just a very selfish and self-absorbed character with very little empathy for anyone else, or does he have some kind of personality or psychotic disorder? And if so, should he be held wholly responsible for his crimes? Smoothly and beautifully written, with some marvellous descriptions of situation and setting, this was an involving and (despite the rather gruesome murder scene) an entertaining read, but once I had turned the last page I have to say that I was rather glad to leave Freddie behind me.

4 Stars.


Lucky to be an Artist
Lucky to be an Artist
by Unity Spencer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £24.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lucky to be an Artist, 4 July 2015
This review is from: Lucky to be an Artist (Hardcover)
Born in 1930, Unity Spencer is the younger daughter of the painter Stanley Spencer and the artist Hilda Carline, and Ms Spencer's book 'Lucky to be an Artist' is her autobiography; however the memories the author shares with the reader are not a series of happy, nostalgic recollections, and although this book is beautifully presented and interesting to read, it has a sense of pain and sadness running through its pages. When Unity was born, her father was working on the murals at Burghclere Chapel based on his experiences during the Great War, and Unity tells of how her father would wrap her in a shawl and take her to the chapel with him, laying her on a chair whilst he painted. Initially, Ms Spencer paints a picture of domestic felicity telling us how, after a bath in a tin tub in front of the fire, she would lie in bed looking out at the evening sky from the window of her bedroom at their home, Chapel View, listening to her mother singing 'Now the Day is Over' - however, these scenes of domestic harmony were short-lived and by the time Unity was three, her parents' marriage had broken up after Stanley became obsessed with (and later married) the artist Patrica Preece, a lesbian who lived with another artist, Dorothy Hepworth. Unity's mother, a Christian Scientist, who suffered from depression and mental breakdowns, found it difficult to cope, and Unity was sent to live with Mrs Harter, an elderly friend of the family, who had also been looking after Unity's elder sister, Shirin, for some time. Mrs Harter, a domineering, possessive and controlling woman, was not a kind or nurturing individual and Unity grew up feeling unhappy, emotionally insecure and repressed.

By the time Unity was in her early thirties, both her mother and her father had died and in 1961 Unity embarked on relationship with Leslie Lambert, a man who was twenty years her senior and who, after she became pregnant with their son, John, was abusive and bullying towards her and, she tells the reader, tried to drive her mad so that he could obtain custody of their son. By 1966 Leslie and Unity were no longer able to live in the same house, but when Unity threw him out of their shared home "he continued to hound me and blight our lives over the next five years. He was the cause of endless anguish and misery for me. I struggled to cope..." Periods of depression followed, as did visits to a psychiatric day hospital, and Unity's book tells of the years of loneliness and heartache which she had to undergo before finally, at a Landmark Forum Weekend, she got up onto the platform and announced that she was giving up being the victim. "As I said those words, the depression that had dogged me for most of my adult life left me ..."

There is more, of course, to Unity Spencer's life than I have mentioned in this review, including her years of teaching art, the development of her painting and her struggle to establish her own artistic identity, and all of this and more is revealed in this very attractively presented autobiography, which is printed on thick, glossy paper and filled with dozens of illustrations and family photographs. The text comprises of biographical details, letters, lots of diary entries, and is interspersed with short paragraphs where the author muses on certain aspects of her life, her dreams and her beliefs - and, as such, can make for a rather discursive reading experience at times, but also a very interesting one. In fact reading Unity Spencer's 'Lucky to be an Artist' has encouraged me to find my copy of Kenneth Pople's: Stanley Spencer: A Biography which I bought ages ago, buried on one of my bookcases, and have somehow have never got around to reading.

4 Stars.


Frank Auerbach: Speaking and Painting
Frank Auerbach: Speaking and Painting
by Catherine Lampert
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Frank Auerbach - Speaking and Painting, 29 Jun. 2015
Catherine Lampert, an independent curator and art historian, begins her portrait of artist, Frank Auerbach, by informing the reader that in writing about her subject (who, she tells us, famously resists any invasion of his private life) a biographical approach is not really appropriate. Instead the author has arranged her book by topic and theme, with the chronology of the sections sometimes overlapping, her emphasis being on Auerbach's professional life, his working methods and views, as conveyed by his own words. Ms Lampert, who became one of Auerbach's sitters in the late seventies, continues by informing the reader that in addition to drawing on her own notes and unpublished recordings of her conversations with the artist, she has also used a rich assortment of published and archival interviews to augment her text. Therefore, although not a biography in the fullest sense, there is still much here to inform and interest both the casual and the serious reader.

So, within the thick, glossy pages of this lavishly illustrated book, the reader learns of Auerbach's birth in 1931 to Jewish parents in Berlin, and of how he was sent to England to a Quaker school in 1939, and has stayed in England - and mostly in London - for almost the whole of his life; we read of how learning later that his parents had been murdered in Auschwitz, Auerbach says he thinks he "...did this thing which psychiatrists frown on: I am in total denial. It's worked very well for me." We learn of Auerbach's time at the Borough Polytechnic, at St Martin's School of Art and at the Royal College of Art; we read of his early years when he was forging a reputation; of his friendships with Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon; of his relationships with women and his sitters; we read of his unusual working methods, and of how some of his pictures can take years to make as he places layer upon layer of paint onto his canvases, only to scrape it off and then repeat the process over and over again, and we listen to Auerbach's philosophy on art and his belief that: "The aim of painting is this: To capture a raw experience for art." All of which makes this portrait of Frank Auerbach an interesting and informative read.

4 Stars.


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