Lead book review

Fast or feast

‘Tell me what you eat and I shall tell you what you are.’ The best known adage in food literature, penned by the French politician and gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, divides all of us generally: the gourmands from the picky, the greedy from the careful, one nation from another, one culture from the next. Laura

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The maker and the monster

There are few more seductive figures for biographers than Mary Shelley. The daughter of the radical philosopher and novelist William Godwin and the great feminist thinker Mary Wollstonecraft (who died a few days after giving birth to her), she ran away with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley at 16; wandered through Europe with him; bore

In times of trouble | 18 January 2018

‘People live in the space between the realities of their lives and the hopes they have for them,’ muses the octogenarian Robert at the start of Turning for Home, helpfully establishing the novel’s major theme. Little ventriloquised cogitations like this cover Barney Norris’s second novel like fingerprints, giving the game away. Robert is a newly

A friend in need

The title of Jenny Erpenbeck’s Go Went Gone, and the autumnal tone of its beginning — a classics professor retires, leaving him at home raking leaves, mulling over memories of his wife and wondering about the body in a nearby lake — suggests that this will be a book of endings, something akin to Anita

The call of the Wren

This book is a thoroughly researched account of the parts played by women in the service of the Royal Navy from the Middle Ages to the present. What it lacks in anecdotes and personal accounts it makes up for in its comprehensive documentation of official attitudes and measures. Women have served in — or, more

Massacre of the innocents

I thought I knew the history of the years 1914 to 1945: the first world war and the terrible casualties in the trenches; the second world war and the German conquest of Europe; day and night bombing; Stalingrad and the Holocaust. But I’m embarrassed to say that I knew nothing about the tragedy in Galicia

Poison in Paradise

Eton turns out prime ministers of various stripes and patches, but it also forges fine explorers. It seems to prepare its alumni perfectly for flying snakes, scorpions so large you can put leads on them and leeches in waving battalions; titanic drinking and dancing ceremonies (our explorer, Robin Hanbury-Tenison, suffers repeated blistering on the dance