Dismissed as "tittle-tattle" by those toadying for knighthoods, this astonishing book is unavailable here. British taxpayers shell out millions to give the rest of the world something to tittle-tattle about - yet we are so feudal, we deny ourselves the very pleasure we pay for. An antidote to this lack of free speech is the free spirit described in another royal biography, Kate Summerscale's The Queen of Whale Cay Fourth Estate.
In , lesbian heiress "Joe" Carstairs purchased an island in the Bahamas where she ruled supreme.
As someone who loves cookery books, but not cooking, I relished the subversive Play with your Food by Joost Elffers. Here, Brussels sprouts and parsnips are for sculpting into elaborate dragons and pigs. Sven Lindqvist's Exterminate all the Brutes Granta was many things: a reading of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, an account of a journey into the Sahara desert, and an investigation of the genocidal impulse that underwrote the colonialist enterprise. Lindqvist's book is virtually unprecedented. It is also a perfect illustration of reading and criticism as lived - as opposed to desk-bound - activities.
Richard Misrach's extraordinary photographs of the western deserts of the US are fairly well known now. Crimes and Splendours Bulfinch is both an impeccably produced retrospective and an attempt to view his work as the culmination of a tradition stretching back to the pioneers of American landscape photography. Mahon's despair at the blandness of modern life is shared by the narrator of Mordecai Richler's Barney's Version Chatto , a wise-cracking Jewish Montrealer: 18th-century in its energy, this must be the funniest novel in years.
But I reviewed half a dozen excellent new books, too, and one in particular excited me as plainly the first volume of a definitive work: N A M Rodgers's The Safeguard of the Sea HarperCollins , the opening voyage in his naval history of Britain - authoritative, graceful, intensely readable.
The most astonishing book I have read this year is Ian Mitchell's scrupulous account of the Tolstoy-Aldington litigation, The Cost of a Reputation Topical Books, pounds 15 : privately published, because no commercial publisher would touch it, which is a scandal in itself. I bought Daghestan: tradition and survival by Robert Chenciner Curzon on the strength of chapter headings such as "King Khosrow's dumplings" and "Inventing the wheelbarrow: women and sex in the mountains".
I was not disappointed. The most arresting of its many arresting images is a picture of the author being presented with a 16th-century Chechen single- family blood feud tower. Chenciner, writing with a racy freshness, is to the north-eastern Caucasus what Lawrence was to Arabia. An expert in cooking and carpets, with a lively eye for both anthropological curiosities and political machinations, he has had a long love affair with this largely unvisited region, His adventures in and knowledge of it are unique.
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