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The Edina Ronay Collection - 35 Exquisite Designs For Hand Knitting
The Edina Ronay Collection - 35 Exquisite Designs For Hand Knitting
by Edina Ronay
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous Patterns, 26 May 2015
Oh, how I love this knitting book! I bought my original copy over twenty years ago and I still really like many of the designs - admittedly some of them do look dated (rewind to the late 1980s) but others (with a few 'tweaks') are absolutely timeless. My first project was the cover design, a cropped boxy sweater, in Rowan Handknit Cotton and I still wear it on occasion with skinny jeans and it continues to attract admiring comments, as does the oversized 'Abstract Floral Sweater' which I now wear with a short skirt and thick tights. I have also knitted the children's fair isle sweaters for my son and niece, which have almost become family heirlooms, and I am just about to start another (although I am having to substitute some of the yarns as the originals have been discontinued) for a friend's toddler. I also knitted the 1920's style tennis sweater in Rowan cabled mercerised cotton (now discontinued but can be successfully substituted with Rowan Siena) - which looks great with white linen trousers, as does the long, fine-knit cabled sweater. Even if I never knitted another garment from this book (unlikely - although I would have to make a few alterations to the patterns) I would still enjoy just looking at the beautiful photographs. If you enjoy knitting, are knowledgeable enough to make a few alterations and yarn substitutions, and can get your hands on a decent copy, then I recommend you go for it whilst there are still copies available. One of my all-time favourites.

5 Stars.


Pillion Riders (VMC)
Pillion Riders (VMC)
by Elisabeth Russell Taylor
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Written, Darkly Nuanced, 25 May 2015
This review is from: Pillion Riders (VMC) (Paperback)
First published in 1993, but set in the early 1950s, Elisabeth Russell Taylor's slim, but beautifully written 'Pillion Riders' is first-person narrated by Opal who, when our story begins, is an attractive, gamine and sexually immature young English woman, who dutifully allows herself to be married off to Helmut, a very wealthy and much older business friend of her father's. On a trip to Paris with her doting, but patronising husband, Opal meets Jean-Claude, a handsome, penniless composer who lives in a garret and travels around Paris on his motorcycle. After riding pillion through the Paris streets on Jean-Claude's bike, Opal and Jean-Claude spend a night of utter passion together, the heights of which Opal has never experienced before, and which apparently affects Jean-Claude so deeply that he weeps as tells her, in the French she does not quite understand, that they must be together.

When Opal returns to London, Jean-Claude follows her, and whilst Helmut is away on business, the pair return to Jean-Claude's Parisian attic where he tries to make a living from his composing and where Opal soon begins to realise that there is much more to Jean-Claude than meets the eye. Before long Opal is asking herself, what is the real nature of Jean-Claude's close relationship with an older, wealthy man? And why is he so totally and utterly obsessed with death of his sister? Soon Opal finds herself involved in a situation that is out of her depth and one in which she finds herself behaving in a manner that is quite alien to her. She tells the reader: "As Helmut's wife I am aware that I am little more than a construction of his imagination. As Jean-Claude's lover I stop to wonder if he is a construction of my own."

To say more would spoil the story, but I will just add that this is a beautifully written, darkly nuanced little novel (less than 200 pages) - yet although the narrative is, in some ways, economical, the settings are exquisitely described and the story is saturated with the scents and sights of Paris and also of the Midi. A quote on the book's cover from the 'Financial Times' states this novel is 'A Small Masterpiece'; I quite agree.

4.5 Stars.


Edward Thomas: from Adlestrop to Arras: A Biography
Edward Thomas: from Adlestrop to Arras: A Biography
by Jean Moorcroft Wilson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From Adlestrop to Arras, 21 May 2015
Jean Moorcroft Wilson, author of biographies of the war poets: Siegfried Sassoon, Isaac Rosenberg and Charles Hamilton Sorley, has now turned her attention to another poet, Edward Thomas for her latest biography - however, although practically all of Thomas's poetry was written during the First World War and he is often referred to as a war poet, his work does not necessarily fit neatly into the category of war poetry and he is also referred to as a nature or pastoral poet. Edward Thomas's style of poetry also defies classification, for despite loose affinities with the Georgian movement of the early twentieth century, his work does not fit neatly into that category; nor does his poetry, which anticipates the Modernists, such as T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, fit into the Modernist category either. Which makes him an interesting poet and, as Jean Moorcroft Wilson reveals, an interesting character for a biography.

'From Adlestrop to Arras' is the first full-length biography of Edward Thomas to appear for thirty years and Jean Moorcroft Wilson's thorough research of her subject, some of which has revealed new information about the poet, has enabled her to write the fullest and most candid account yet. So, in a 'from the cradle to the grave' chronological format, the reader learns of Thomas's birth in Lambeth in 1878; of his education, part of which was at public school (St Paul's - where, to his father's disappointment, he failed to win a scholarship); of his difficult relationship with his father; of his early journalism and his friendship with James Ashcroft Noble, a reviewer for the 'Spectator' who helped in getting some of Thomas's work published; and of Thomas's relationship with Noble's daughter, Helen. We also read about Thomas's time at Oxford University (where he began taking laudanum); of the friendships he made at Oxford; of him leaving university without the hoped-for first-class degree; of how Helen Noble, who had become his lover, fell pregnant whilst Thomas was still at Oxford and of their subsequent hasty marriage; of how by the time Thomas had reached his mid-thirties he was the father of three children, dissatisfied in his marriage to the homely Helen (who adored him) and of how, feeling stifled, he found it necessary to spend periods away from his family.

In addition, we learn about how despite becoming a renowned critical reviewer and a published author of books of history, biography and travel-writing, Thomas was unhappy with the amount of 'hack' work he had to do in order to keep his family afloat financially, and suffered from periods of deep depression, which he vented on the long-suffering Helen, and from which, at times, brought him close to suicide. We also read of Thomas's profound love of the English countryside; of his affinity with nature; of his apparently platonic relationships with other women during his marriage (including the author and poet, Eleanor Farjeon) and of his meeting and subsequent close friendship with the American poet, Robert Frost, who encouraged Thomas towards writing poetry. We also learn of how once Thomas began composing poems and seemed to have found the expression he had been searching for, he was tragically killed at the Battle of Arras in France on 9th April 1917, leaving a heartbroken Helen to mourn him for the remaining fifty years of her life.

There is, of course, a huge amount more to Edward Thomas's life than I have revealed in this review, and in this rather absorbing 400+ page biography the author looks at the formative periods of Thomas's life, examines his marriage and his relationships with other women, discusses the development of his prose writing as well as his poetry, dispels some of the myths about his life and also reveals new information about Thomas's death. Although I have to say that on finishing this biography, I felt less fond of Edward Thomas (regarding his behaviour towards those close to him) than I did when beginning it, this does not detract from the fact that this is a very good biography, and if you have developed an interest in Edward Thomas from reading his poetry and have wished you knew more about the man behind the poems, then this full-length biography should make a very interesting and informative read for you.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 21, 2015 3:30 PM BST


Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas
Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas
by Matthew Hollis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The Last Years of Edward Thomas, 18 May 2015
Matthew Hollis begins his sympathetic account of the last few years of the life of poet Edward Thomas, with a wonderfully atmospheric piece of writing about the opening of Harold Monro's Poetry Bookshop in Bloomsbury in the January of 1913. Over the following months and years, poets, writers, journalists, critics and readers flocked into the shop including: Henry Newbolt, Edward Marsh, Rupert Brooke, Ezra Pound, Charlotte Mew, Robert Graves, Robert Frost and Edward Thomas. In 1913, although not yet writing poetry, Edward Thomas had written books of biography and history and, due to his love of the English countryside, was a keen travel writer; he was also an experienced literary critic, well known for his incisive reviews. However, Thomas, who was in his mid-thirties and the father of three children at this time, was dissatisfied in his marriage to the long-suffering Helen, on whom he vented his frustrations, despite (or maybe because of) her utter devotion to him, and felt that his life was going nowhere. Keen to get away from his marriage, Thomas spent long periods apart from his family engaged in his writing and also in seemingly platonic relationships with other women, but although he tried to escape from the pressures of married life, he could not always escape from his depression and from occasional thoughts of suicide.

Towards the end of 1913 and the early part of 1914, Thomas met and became friendly with the American poet Robert Frost, whose poems Thomas greatly admired and the two men became very close, spending time together walking in the Gloucestershire countryside, enjoying the nature around them, and talking of everything that mattered to them. In fact, the two men became so close that Thomas considered starting a new life in America when Frost returned home, and it was Robert Frost who, aware that Thomas was unhappy with some of the 'hack' writing he was forced to do in order to remain financially afloat, encouraged Thomas to revisit some of the prose work he had already written and to consider transforming his pieces of descriptive prose into verse. Over the next two years, as Britain became entrenched in the First World War (and Thomas, obsessed with thoughts of appearing cowardly, decided to enlist in the army), he wrote over a hundred poems - a worthy achievement for any poet, let alone one who had commented jokingly in the past that he couldn't write a poem to save his life. In fact it may have been that poetry writing, in some ways, almost became his emotional saviour, because in writing verse Thomas seemed to have finally found the expression he had been searching for and unconsciously preparing himself for all his adult life. It is, therefore, so very sad that having found his true voice, Edward Thomas was killed in France at the Battle of Arras by a German shell on Easter Monday, 1917, leaving a heartbroken Helen to mourn her husband for the remaining fifty years of her life.

With 'Now All Roads Lead to France' Matthew Hollis has written an extremely readable account of his subject and, whilst this is not a full biography and focuses mostly on the last few years of Edward Thomas's life, the reader is provided with enough information to enable us to follow his progression from prose writer to poet, and although I would have appreciated learning more about Thomas's early life and of his development as a prose writer, a full length study was not Hollis's intention. As a poet himself, and as the editor of: Selected Poems of Edward Thomas, Matthew Hollis is the ideal biographer to focus on Edward Thomas's transition to writing poetry, explaining how the writer shaped and revised his work and how he composed his poems. Written with sensitivity and with evident sympathy for his subject, Matthew Hollis effortlessly conveys Edward Thomas's profound love of the English countryside and, as he does so, he writes very evocatively of place and landscape himself, which makes this biography both an interesting and enjoyable read.

4 Stars.


Travelling to Infinity: The True Story Behind the Theory of Everything
Travelling to Infinity: The True Story Behind the Theory of Everything
by Jane Hawking
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautifully Written and Involving Memoir (Kindle Whispersync Version), 15 May 2015
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Jane Wilde was introduced to Stephen Hawking in 1963 in their home town of St Albans, although she had come into contact with him years earlier in the 1950s when Stephen, a boy with floppy, golden-brown hair, attended Jane's school, St Albans High, for a very brief time. Jane spotted Stephen again when she was out walking with friends in 1962 when "there lolloping along...was a young man with an awkward gait, his head down, his face shielded from the world under an unruly mass of straight brown hair. Immersed in his own thoughts...he was an eccentric phenomenon for strait-laced, sleepy St Albans." Jane met Stephen properly on January 1st 1963, when they were both at a party and where she saw him talking to an Oxford friend about his research in cosmology at Cambridge (Stephen had gained a First Class degree at Oxford but was doing his PhD at Cambridge). Listening to Stephen chatting, Jane was drawn to his unusual character, his sense of humour and his independent personality and she was keen to become better acquainted with him. When two years later the two of them married, Jane already knew that Stephen was seriously ill with motor neurone disease and most probably only had a couple of years left to live, and although Stephen's mother tried to warn Jane about the horrific developments that could be expected to occur as his condition degenerated, Jane replied that she would prefer not to know the details of the prognosis because she loved Stephen so much that nothing could deter her from marrying him: "I would make a home for him, dismissing all my own previous ambitions which now were insignificant by comparison."

Strengthened by her Christian faith, Jane was determined to care for Stephen, anticipating and coping valiantly with his physical needs so that he could concentrate his brilliant mind on cosmology and his pioneering work on black holes, but little did she realise in those early days the sheer amount of physical and mental strain that would be caused over the following years by the onslaught of this dreadful degenerative disease. As the years went by and Stephen's fame increased, Jane had to juggle the role as the wife of a renowned scientist, with being a mother to their three children, studying for a PhD in medieval Spanish poetry, and the backbreaking responsibility of doing practically everything for her brilliant-minded but severely physically disabled husband, who for years refused to have professional nursing care in the home. Just when Jane was at breaking point, she met choirmaster and musician Jonathan Hellyer Jones, who not only helped Jane with the physical aspect of caring for Stephen, but also supported her emotionally and spiritually. There is more, of course, to this beautifully written, moving and involving memoir, but I shall leave the remainder for prospective purchasers to read about for themselves - however I did just want to mention the Kindle Whispersync for Voice edition which I opted for. If you have a Kindle you can purchase the Kindle edition and the audio download together for less than the list price of the paperback edition. This means that you can switch back and forth between reading the Kindle book and listening to the Audible narration without ever losing your place - which is brilliant for when you have to get on with work or for when you are travelling. The audio version is very ably narrated by Sandra Duncan who reads it so well that it almost seems as if it is her own life story she is sharing with the listener. Highly recommended.

5 Stars.


Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley
Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley
by Charlotte Gordon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Romantic Outlaws, 12 May 2015
Mary Shelley, the author of: 'Frankenstein' was the daughter of radical political philosopher, William Godwin, and the polemicist and feminist writer, Mary Wollstonecraft. Sadly, Mary Shelley never knew her mother as Wollstonecraft died of puerperal fever in 1797 ten days after giving birth to her daughter. However, although her mother's physical presence was absent from Mary Shelley's life, Wollstonecraft's influence on her daughter was profound and, as Charlotte Gordon tells us in her introduction to this very readable dual biography, for the rest of her life Shelley mourned the loss of her mother, dedicated herself to the preservation of her mother's legacy and endeavoured to live her life following her mother's feminist principles .

Born in 1759, the daughter of an alcoholic and sometimes physically violent man, Mary Wollstonecraft grew up trying to protect her mother and younger siblings from her father's abuse, and from a young age was aware of the inequalities between the sexes. Realising that education was the key to her future, Wollstonecraft, with the help of sympathetic older friends, educated herself and when the opportunity to escape from home and gain a level of independence presented itself, she did not hesitate to act and took a job firstly as a lady's companion, and later as a schoolmistress. After a period spent teaching, Wollstonecraft, encouraged by a friend, made the brave decision to become a writer, the most famous of her writings being the highly regarded: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). At the end of 1792 Wollstonecraft left England and arrived in Paris during the French Revolution, where she met and fell in love with Gilbert Imlay and conceived and gave birth to their illegitimate child, whom she named Fanny. The relationship with Imlay did not last, prompting the heartbroken Wollstonecraft to make two suicide attempts, however, she later met the political philosopher William Godwin who, as we know, became the father of their daughter, Mary Godwin (Shelley).

Mary Godwin's childhood, although more secure than her mother's, was certainly not without its difficulties. Several years after Wollstonecraft's death, Godwin married his next-door neighbour, Mary Jane Clairmont, and the young Mary and her half-sister, Fanny, suddenly found themselves with a stepmother, a stepbrother, Charles, and a stepsister, Claire (Jane). Mary resented her stepmother and relations between them became strained and difficult and she was later sent to boarding school and then to friends of her father's in Scotland - and it was returning home in 1814 from one of her trips to Scotland that the sixteen-year-old Mary met the poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was already married and a father. The pair were instantly attracted to one another and after meeting clandestinely (with stepsister, Jane, as an ineffective chaperone) they declared their love and eloped to France. There is naturally a lot more to Mary Shelley's and Mary Wollstonecraft's lives than I have mentioned in this review, including marriages, births, deaths, infidelities and betrayals - and, of course, there is Mary Shelley's famous novel 'Frankenstein', the inception of which came about after a rainy evening spent reading and telling ghost stories around a log fire in Lord Byron's villa near Lake Geneva. However, I shall leave the remainder of these two women's interesting and turbulent lives for prospective readers to discover for themselves.

In her introduction, Charlotte Gordon admits that there are several comprehensive biographies of both Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley already available, and she states her deep indebtedness to the work of earlier scholars; however, the author continues by commenting that 'Romantic Outlaws' sheds new light on both women by exploring the intersections between their lives, and this new approach, which is delivered in alternating chapters for each of the characters, emphasises the similarities between mother and daughter and reveals how both women chose to ignore the moral codes of the time and led similarly rebellious lives. This dual aspect also allows the author to highlight the two women's shared aims and desires and shows how their writing supported and sustained them. At almost six hundred pages this might appear a rather hefty book - however, Gordon's style is very approachable, in fact almost novelistic in places: "With her chestnut hair falling out of its pins, her flush of energy, and her voluptuous figure, Mary seemed to Imlay to be eminently desirable". I should perhaps mention that although this novelistic approach is very readable, if you are looking for a scholarly biography with an in-depth analysis of the writings of Wollstonecraft and Shelley, this may not satisfy; however, if you are looking for a biography which enables you to learn more about two extraordinary women who led extraordinary and revolutionary lives, and one that is written in a very accessible format, then this dual biography should make an engaging and enjoyable read for you.

4 Stars.


Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art
Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art
by Julian Barnes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.89

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, Erudite and Very Enjoyable, 10 May 2015
Julian Barnes' marvellous collection of essays on art begins with French artist, Théodore Géricault, and moves on through various other French artists: Delacroix; Courbet; Manet; Fantin-Latour; Cézanne; Degas; Redon; Bonnard; Vuillard; Braque; the Swiss/French, Vallotton, and the Belgian, Magritte, before arriving at American sculptor: Claes Oldenburg, and finally to the British artists: Lucian Freud and Howard Hodgkin. Each and every one of these essays is a pleasure to read (especially the incisive and amusing piece on Lucian Freud ) where Julian Barnes writes with both perception and sensitivity, and with a painterly eye. The introduction (where Julian Barnes tell of his own cultural journey and where he also comments that when assembling these pieces he noticed that he had unwittingly been retracing the story of how art made its way from Romanticism to Realism and into Modernism) lures the reader in immediately, and in the first essay discussing Géricault's 'The Raft of the Medusa', Barnes' language is so rich in verbal imagery that one almost feels as if one were on the raft oneself being violently battered and buffeted by the elements.

Overall, I was impressed not just by the quality of the writing, but by the accessibility of the information contained within each of these short pieces and, interestingly, these pieces are not just essays about art, but about the artists who painted the works of art in discussion, complete with fascinating little snippets of information about the personal lives of these famous painters. My intention when starting this book was to ration myself to one essay each day, but I must confess that much as I feel these essays need to be read and digested slowly, I found it difficult to restrict myself to only one and read this book more quickly than it most probably deserves - however, that is not a problem, because I shall now be able to reread and enjoy again each of these beautifully written essays at my leisure. Informative, erudite, witty and enjoyable to read, this very attractively presented book with its thick cream pages and plenty of coloured photographs, is one that I find easy to recommend.

5 Stars.


A Dry Spell
A Dry Spell
by Clare Chambers
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A Dry Spell, 9 May 2015
This review is from: A Dry Spell (Paperback)
Clare Chambers' fourth novel is a very readable story which moves between the 1970s and the late 1990s and focuses on the lives of Nina and Guy who, as students in 1976, took a trip to the Algerian desert, with two other students: Martin, who was Nina's boyfriend, and Hugo Etchells, an intelligent but socially inept young man, who attended the same boarding school as Guy, and who Guy was continually rescuing from the difficult situations Hugo always seem to walk right into. On the trip, which was more uncomfortable and perilous than Nina, Martin or Guy imagined, and which Hugo alone seemed to cope with, Nina and Guy became closer than perhaps either of them intended, but then a shocking event occurred which abruptly ended their venture and sent three of the four characters on their way back home to England. Almost twenty years later, Guy is now the headmaster of a primary school, is married to Jane and the father of two small girls; and Nina, a social worker, is the single mother of an eighteen-year-old son, James. However, neither Guy nor Nina have kept in touch with each other since their disastrous trip to Algeria, and when they both learn independently that Hugo Etchells, who has been living in Australia, is about to return to England and wants to get in touch with them, a series of events is set in motion which will have significant consequences for all involved.

As commented in my opening paragraph, this is a very readable book and one which is peopled with believable characters, some of whom, despite their efforts to behave well, sometimes fall short of their expectations. Nina worries about her son, James, she frets about his involvement with a girl she does not think is the 'right sort' and jumps to conclusions about certain things she clandestinely discovers about him; Guy, as the head of a Church of England school, worries about losing his Christian faith and is concerned about Jane who, in turn, is struggling to cope with the demands of their defiant and difficult toddler daughter, Harriet. Feeling tired and inadequate and losing her appetite for sex, Jane instead focuses her energies on making friends with Erica, a woman she meets in the park and whose laid-back and disorganised life suddenly seems preferable to Jane's own more restricted and orderly existence. So, all in all, a perceptive and often humorous tale of modern(ish) suburban London life, of a marriage moving through a difficult period, and of how the experiences people undergo, and how they cope with them, make them who they are. I do have some slight reservations about some aspects of the story - of which I cannot explain further without revealing spoilers - but overall I found this an enjoyable and entertaining novel which worked well as an absorbing yet undemanding bedtime read. I also enjoyed and can recommend Clare Chambers' debut novel:Uncertain Terms (which, out of the three books I have read by the author, I enjoyed the most) and also her second book: Back Trouble.

4 Stars.


Have You Been Good?: A Memoir
Have You Been Good?: A Memoir
by Vanessa Nicolson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Have You Been Good?, 8 May 2015
Vanessa Nicolson, the author of this honest and sometimes painful to read memoir was born in 1956, the granddaughter of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, and the only daughter of Vita's and Harold's son, art historian Ben Nicolson, and his Italian wife, Luisa, also an art historian. Ben Nicolson confessed to Luisa before their marriage that he was a "congenital homosexual", but one who had had enough of the suffering and the pain caused from his passionate adoration of certain young men, and was now looking for serenity, companionship, a more lasting love and children. Luisa decided to accept Nicolson's declarations, the couple married in 1955, and their daughter, Vanessa, was born the year after; however, a few years later, the marriage was in trouble and, pressed by a very unhappy Ben, Luisa very reluctantly agreed to a divorce. Vanessa spent the rest of her childhood and early adult years moving between Italy, where Luisa returned after the marriage break-up, and England, where Vanessa was sent to an expensive but very liberal boarding school, where she was not happy. In the school holidays, if Luisa (who was employed by Christie's in Italy) was too busy to take time off, Vanessa spent part of the holidays with her father in London, or she stayed at Sissinghurst Castle with her Nicolson cousins, or was farmed out to stay with friends from school. Feeling insufficiently loved and emotionally neglected, Vanessa grew into an insecure and anxious young adult who, to boost her confidence, often drank too much, fell into relationships, underwent more than one abortion and overdosed on painkillers and sleeping pills before meeting her husband, Andrew, settling down, giving birth to two daughters, Ellie and Rosa, and making a home for them all at Horserace Cottage at Sissinghurst. However, although life became more settled for a few years, the news that Rosa was suffering from a form of epilepsy brought pain and anguish to Vanessa and her husband, especially when (as the reader already knows right from the very beginning of the memoir) Rosa dies, and the author tells us that with the loss of her daughter, she lost a part of herself.

Moving backwards and forwards in time and interspersed with sections addressed to the absent Rosa, Vanessa Nicolson (who tells the reader that she comes from a family of archivists and diary keepers) has included extracts from letters and diary entries to assist her in the telling of her fragmented and unsettled life and, in doing so, has written a brave, poignant and very personal memoir. Because of some of the subject matter, this is not a book that I can say I exactly enjoyed reading and I was moved to tears by some of the writing, but that said, I found 'Have You Been Good?' an interesting, involving read and turned the last page sincerely hoping that Vanessa Nicolson found the writing of this memoir to be a cathartic process.

3.5 Stars.


What the Eye Doesn't See
What the Eye Doesn't See
by Alice Jolly
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars What the Eye Doesn't See, 3 May 2015
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No spoilers.

Alice Jolly's debut novel 'What the Eye Doesn't See' focuses on Maggie, a very attractive, half-Spanish woman in her late twenties and living in London, who is the daughter of discredited Tory politician, Max Priestley. Max, an ex-barrister, ex-stockbroker and now ex-Junior Arts Minister, has been unable to escape from the rumours that have been circulating about his involvement in the suspicious death of his best friend's wife, the beautiful Tiffany Drummond. Tiffany died in a fire which started in her country cottage whilst her husband was in London, and Max's claims that he was not involved have been treated with mistrust and suspicion. Used to being in the public eye, Max has coped with the intrusion of the press into his private life - in fact he tells the reader: "What's the point of life if no one is watching"; however, his daughter Maggie, who has reason to suspect that her father lied about the night of the fire and has, herself, lied to the police about certain events, is torn between the conflicting emotions of wanting to discover and tell the truth about what really happened and wanting to protect her father. And when she meets and becomes emotionally involved with the journalist who is writing a book about Max, the strain finally becomes too much for her. Alongside Max's and Maggie's story, we read about Max's terminally ill mother, Nanda, who lives with her two much-loved female friends, Freddy and Theodora in Thwaite Cottages in the Gloucestershire countryside. As a single mother, Nanda brought Max up independently, oblivious to any possible neighbourly disapproval over an unmarried woman having an illegitimate baby and, after the tragic death of Maggie's Spanish mother, Nanda practically brought Maggie up too; however when Maggie questions Nanda about her mother and about her untimely death, Nanda becomes vague and Maggie finally gives up asking. Always aware of the loss of her mother, and terribly worried about her father, Maggie realizes that the old adage 'What the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't grieve over' is not necessarily true or helpful.

First-person narrated in alternating chapters from each of the three main characters, this is a beautifully written and perceptive story of family secrets, family loyalties and of the complex relationship between a mother and her son, and a father and his daughter. Alice Jolly, who apart from her novel writing, writes plays and also teaches creative writing at Oxford University, has created a cast of interesting characters for her debut novel, characters about whose earlier lives I wished I could have learnt more - especially Nanda (who at the age of seventeen ran away from school with the intention of helping to fight in the Spanish Civil War) and her two friends, Freddy and Theodora. The author also writes descriptively well of the Gloucestershire countryside, particularly as seen through the eyes of the elderly and ailing Nanda, as she describes: "A diamond-edged day, the first day of spring...and the sun breaks in waves of pale yellow over the hills, its oblique light touching the edges of the dry-stone walls and all the grey of the landscape is suddenly made golden." And when Nanda wishes that her granddaughter would take more note of the natural world around her, she thinks: "People who live in cities don't know how to sit still and if she were silent for a moment she would hear the sounds of the evening. I listen for them always - the voices of the birds becoming softer, the sound of water being drawn up from the earth by a million roots, the earth slowly breathing out the heat of the day." Sentences like these made me pause so that I could read them again for the pure pleasure they provided, and it is not just the natural world that Alice Jolly describes so vividly in this very readable novel. Although, in some respects, I would have appreciated a slightly (only slightly) more resolved ending to the story, I really enjoyed this novel finding it an involving and enjoyable read, and I am looking forward to reading and reviewing the author's second novel:If Only You Knew providing I can find it on one of my many very overladen bookcases.

4 Stars.


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