Life & Style

Read All About It

There’s nothing like losing yourself in a thrilling tome, and to celebrate World Book Day on March 2nd we’ve selected our latest top 10 reads. We’re not suggesting you take a sneaky duvet day, but there’s no denying that this sort of moment between the covers is as seductive as they come…
Image: Burcu via Unsplash

Maame by Jessica George

This sparkling debut about the trials and tribulations of a 25-year-old London-born daughter of Ghanaian immigrants has already raced up the US bestseller lists and looks likely to do the same here. Maddie lives in Croydon, caring for her father, who has Parkinson’s, while her mother still spends most of the year in Ghana running a hostel. Narrated in the first person present, we follow Maddie – whom everyone calls Maame (meaning ‘mother’ or ‘woman’ in Ghanaian Twi dialect) – as she navigates her way through the complexities of daily life, from commuting to work, to coping with her father’s gradual deterioration. Maddie loves lists and is constantly looking up topics like ‘back pain in your mid-20s’ on Google. The novel started as a digital diary when George’s own father died, which accounts for its chatty, personal, heartfelt style, and it’s no surprise that a major TV adaption is on the way.

Giorgio Morandi: Masterpieces from the Magnani-Rocca Foundation

There’s something indescribably beautiful and peaceful about the compositions and colours of Morandi’s still lifes. Ceramic vases, bowls and bottles are grouped together in subtle shades of greys, creams, blues and whites against simple, light-diffused backgrounds, or just hinted at with the merest of outlines in loose watercolours or soft black pencil. This exhibition of his works is currently on at the Estorick in Islington (until 30 April) to celebrate its 25th year, and is an absolute must-see. Alongside his famous still lifes are paintings of flower arrangements, landscapes and a self-portrait, together with several etchings, pencil drawings and watercolours. The accompanying catalogue, which works just as well as a standalone volume, has a generous colour-plate section and several essays about the man and his friendship with his patron, Luigi Magnani. If Morandi is truly the King of Beige, as he has been called, I say bring it on.

Wild Places: Selected Stories by Katherine Mansfield

A young woman is overwhelmed by her feelings of bliss and happiness as she and her husband prepare to greet their guests at a dinner party, only to discover a terrible betrayal. A little girl, innocently playing outside her home, is taken away by two women in an apparent act of kindness; but is it? A lavish garden party is being prepared, but threatens to be overshadowed by the sudden death of a young father whose family lives nearby. A man determined to grieve his dead son in private decides, spitefully, to drop ink from his pen onto a fly to see if it can survive. Intense, witty, spirited, perceptive and so full of life, these are just some of the themes in this new edition comprising over thirty of Mansfield’s stories. Some are barely more than two pages long, making it the perfect treasure trove to dip in and out of. Read alongside Claire Harman’s new biography.

Forbidden Notebook by Alba de Cespedes, translated by Ann Goldstein

It’s Rome 1950, and 43-year-old Valeria impulsively buys a notebook in a tobacconist’s shop, “black, shiny, thick, the type used in school”. She’s not clear what she’s going to use it for, but feels the need to conceal it from her husband Michele and her two grown-up children who are still living at home. So begins this wonderful, rediscovered novel, written in the form of diary entries over several months. The author – that is the fictional Valeria – reveals to us her interior world, in particular her frustration with the limitations of her life: her sadness that her husband no longer desires her, her annoyance at her prospective daughter-in-law, her ambivalence towards her work-ambitious daughter, and her guilt over her infatuated but suppressed longing for her close colleague. How rewarding to read this brilliant new translation by the once bestselling Italian-Cuban novelist known and even jailed in the 1930s for her anti-fascist views.

Hungry Ghosts by Kevin Jared Hosein

I loved this broodingly atmospheric novel set in 1930s post-colonial Trinidad. It’s a family saga with a dark side that revolves around the lives of two households – one living in poverty, sharing a ramshackle barrack of wood and metal with several families, the other, a prosperous couple living on a large farm nearby. When the wealthy man of the house suddenly disappears, leaving no trace behind, his wife begins to fear for her own safety and hires a night watchman. He is one of the men from the barrack, and sees an opportunity to earn a decent salary. But protecting an attractive, vulnerable woman has its own cost and that’s when the trouble really begins. Hosein, a Caribbean novelist who has won several prizes already, excels at evoking undercurrents of menace but also a place of rich landscapes, colourful scenery, intense flavours and smells in a highly original style.

Pretty City Paris: Discovering Paris’s Beautiful Places by Siobhan Ferguson

I’d forgotten how much I adore Paris until I started leafing through this stunning book. Photographer and social-media whizz Siobhan Ferguson is the founder of @theprettycities on Instagram, and author of the Pretty City series, which so far includes guides to London, New York and Dublin. What sets these apart from the crowd is her skill at combining (mostly) her own gorgeous photographs with informed, intelligent guidance. Paris is, for her, the city of light and dreams, of cobbled streets and quaint cafés, of faded shop fronts and hidden flea markets, of boulangeries and boutique book shops, of royal parks and magnificent arcades, and so much more. She takes us by the hand and walks us round her favourite haunts, arrondissement by arrondissement, telling us where to stop and what to see, accompanied by her invaluable little black book of addresses. And, of course, those pictures!

Hotel Milano by Tim Parks

Retired journalist Frank Marriott agrees to attend the funeral in Milan of his former boss and love rival, so catches a last-minute flight from London, against his son’s advice, just as Covid is beginning to spread throughout Lombardy. Now in his mid-70s, Frank barely listens to the news, preferring to read the poetry of Tennyson. Oblivious of what’s about to happen, he books himself into the five-star Hotel Milano and then, wham, the city goes into lockdown. People must stay indoors, masks become mandatory and ambulance sirens wail. Meanwhile, Frank discovers a family of illegal Egyptian refugees living above his bedroom, one of whom has a raging fever. Against his better judgement, he offers to help them, with life-changing consequences. Parks writes superbly about regret, lost love and the cost of kindness, as well as what those early, terrifying days at the epicentre of the pandemic were really like.

All Sorts of Lives: Katherine Mansfield And The Art of Risking Everything by Claire Harman

Published on the centenary of Mansfield’s death, Harman’s new biography suggests that the author, whose output exceeded over a hundred short stories, has been badly overlooked. Choosing 10 of the stories and weaving them into Mansfield’s own, tragically short life, Harman goes on to show how Mansfield pioneered the modern short story form and suggests that she deserves to stand alongside contemporaries such as James Joyce, DH Lawrence and Virginia Woolf. It was an extraordinary life: vibrant, painful and full of suffering, from her contracting gonorrhoea and being in a sham marriage for a day, to being blackmailed by an ex-lover and having a miscarriage. She was only 34 when she died, dramatically, after “a great gush of blood poured from her mouth”, having been ill with tuberculosis for six years. The suffering was integral to Mansfield’s creative drive, as Harman expertly explains. Read alongside the new edition of Mansfield’s stories.

Love Story: New Photography of Love and Intimacy by Rachel Segal Hamilton

If the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is true, this chunky volume about different kinds of modern love proves it. Twenty-three photo essays are prefaced with the briefest of introductions. Deanna Dikeman tells her story of visits to her ageing parents, starting with them both waving her goodbye, then just her mother waving, and finally she takes a photograph of an empty driveway. Hilary Gauld shoots several couples with Down’s syndrome in black and white, and shows us that “love is a human emotion that knows no boundaries”, while Ed Templeton’s series of snogging teenage couples expresses all the exuberant passion of young lust. Other stories show the love between siblings, between people and their pets, between mothers and their babies, and I was moved to tears by Marna Clarke’s pictures of her with her late-life partner, as she chronicles the ravages of time on both their bodies with rare poignancy.

A Table Full of Love by Skye McAlpine

Depressed by the lack of convivial meals with friends and family enforced by lockdown, Skye McAlpine decided to carry on cooking and deliver her homemade goodies in care packages to her loved ones’ doorsteps instead. This was the inspiration behind her new book, which is divided thematically under chapter headings such as comfort, nourish and seduce, rather than the more common headings such as starters and mains, meat and veg, summer and winter and so on. It’s her third and most personal volume, packed with recipes that evoke sentiment as much if not more than hunger. Cooking is her language of love, a way of cherishing her nearest and dearest. From her mother’s buttery scrambled eggs and her father’s raisins in grappa to ‘A Very Sexy Cocktail’ (prosecco, campari and pomegranate juice) and birthday cake (she has several recipes) it’s a deliciously mixed and inspiring bag, with photographs to drool for.