Top positive review
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Highly recommended for a rainy weekend.
on 23 July 2012
Do you ever read a book you enjoy so much that you hunt down similar books about similar subjects to fill the void? It never works. After Paul Spicer's 'The Temptress,' I read Frances Osbourne's 'The Bolter,' which was an anti-climax.
This book, by contrast, was an absolute delight. I can't recommend it highly enough. Spicer is clearly invested in his subject, Alice De Janze, an uncommonly beautiful American heiress and member of Kenya's notorious Happy Valley Set between the wars. The writing is flawless, evocative and transporting. The subject matter is engrossing. Spicer writes about Alice incisively, striking exactly the right balance between analysis and narrative, maintaining exactly the right distance from a subject with whom he is somewhat connected (she was friends with his mother.) This is a story you'll read without blinking, until you realise it's 4am and you're disappointed to be finished. The pace and tone of the narrative is compelling, too. Just when you feel the story is meandering along at a comfortably pleasant pace, something terrifically dramatic happens, and Alice De Janze's life was punctuated with a lot of cinematically melodramatic moments.
The most infamous of these incidents in the book is the murder of Lord Erroll (the subject of 'White Mischief,' a book by historian James Fox, and later a film of the same title.) A reviewer below criticises Spicer for his theory about Erroll's murder, and this is probably legitimate. I haven't read 'White Mischief,' so Spicer's is effectively the first theory about Erroll's death that I have read. For this reason, I was pretty easily persuaded. Those who are more widely read in this area can better judge. However, as an ignorant but interested reader I enthusiastically recommend this to like-minded readers. It's a little bit racy and a lot scandalous, but also thoughtful and empathetic, offering new insight into a beautiful, complicated and deeply troubled woman.
I went on to read Karen Blixen's 'Out of Africa' for the first time, which I loved. I can also recommend 'Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa' by Mark Seal. I plan to read 'White Mischief' and 'Too Close To The Sun: The Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton' by Sara Wheeler. Since finishing 'The Temptress', I find I almost miss the heady atmosphere of white Kenya and the African landscape. I want to read more books with lions in them.