Book Reviews: October 2018Family Lexicon by Natalia Ginsburg
Daunt Books £9.99
Giuseppi Levi is always shouting at his children and forcing them to march up mountains, his wife Lidia is always trying to slope off for a sit down. Their various children comply with their wishes, or not, all of them contributing to the routines and rituals, crazes, pet phrases, and stories, doubtful, comical, indispensable that make up a large Jewish-Italian family.
Written while Natalia Ginsburg was away from her family, and homesick for them, this lovely autobiographical novel, mainly composed of dialogue, builds layer by layer through repetition and pattern, a portrait of that family, their repeated phrases, the ties of affection and exasperation that bind them together. It is set against the rise of fascism in Italy through the 1920s and 30s, and the Levis, both Jewish and anti-fascist will have to ensure that their own family lexicon survives.
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
Willa Knox is a woman trying to hold things together. Her house, which has been left to her is crumbling about her family’s ears; she and her husband, having worked as university professors, are now unemployed, her son’s girlfriend commits suicide leaving a small, inconsolable baby. Raging against a world that can let these things happen, Willa nonetheless comes to find consolation in her blossoming relationship with her daughter, Tig and her baby grandson, and her obsession with the first occupants of her unstable house.
Interleaved with Willa’s story is the tale of Thatcher Greenwood, who lived in her house in 1871. A science teacher who wishes to educate his small town about the work of Darwin, he runs foul of the town’s Christian founder, who is more than happy with the status quo. He finds inspiration in his friendship with his neighbour, the enigmatic Mary Treat, a scientist and breaker of the mould of Victorian womanhood.
An interesting novel about reason and faith, the failures of capitalism, family and loss, from one of our favourite authors.
Atlas of the Unexpected by Travis Elborough
White Lion £20
Sussex-based writer Travis Elborough is an affectionate chronicler of English institutions – parks, seaside towns, London buses – and has now written a fascinating study of unusual and quirky places across the globe. Included within is the story of Titusville, Pennsylvania, where Vaseline was invented, the fortuitous discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls by a stray goat, and the secrets of the Dogon people of the cliffs of Bandiagara. Beautifully illustrated with maps and photos, this is a book any armchair traveller or trivia fan will treasure!
Animalphabet by Julia Donaldson and Sharon King-Chai
Our (and the rest of the world’s) favourite children’s author has teamed up with illustrator Sharon King-Chai to create this gorgeous animal alphabet. With luscious illustrations, flaps and cut-outs, as well as a witty text leading from animal to animal, this is a must have book for any 3-5 year old – we can’t recommend it highly enough!