05 August 2011


Louise Brooks

This summer has been so busy work-wise that I seem to have fallen behind on my reading (if the seemingly non-shrinking stack of books next to my bed is anything to judge by). Nonetheless, here's what I have managed to read recently.

The Bolter by Frances Osborne
Lady Idina Sackville was one of those individuals who only the English seem to produce. While not a natural beauty, she stood out in Edwardian England with her exquisite gowns and black Pekingese named Satan by her side. Her later abandonment of husband and children for life with another man in Kenya made her infamous and earned her the nickname “the Bolter” (well known to fans of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate). She would become a member of the notorious Happy Valley set and marry many more times yet this biography, written by her great-granddaughter, shows that Sackville with all her apparent disregard for societal rules really just wanted to be loved.

Cover Her Face by P.D. James
This is the first in a long line of mysteries starring detective Adam Dalgliesh. Set in a small Essex village, the story opens at a dinner party hosted by the Maddox family in their manor house where the conversation at the table turns to Sally, the pretty servant who is an unwed mother. On the day of the church fete, Sally scandalizes everyone by showing up in the same dress as the Maddox daughter and later announcing that the Maddox son has proposed to her. The next day Sally is found murdered in her bed and it is up to the observant Dalgliesh to find the killer. P.D. James is an great writer and it was fun to revisit this mystery, which I first read many years ago. Even if you don’t want to dive into all of the Dalgliesh books, this can be read as a stand alone.

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson
Let me start by saying that Kate Atkinson is a brilliant writer. I had read all of her novels when her first mystery, Case Histories, appeared. And this latest tale of semi-retired private investigator Jackson Brodie does not disappoint. One of the best things about an Atkinson novel is the seemingly unconnected characters and story lines that all merge together in one cohesive meeting by the final chapter. This time round Brodie is following up on a request from a woman to help track down information about her birth parents. Brodie winds up stumbling upon a 30-year old cover-up, a kidnapped child, and a dog who becomes his companion and, in one scene, his rescuer.

Vivien: The Life of Vivien Leigh by Alexander Walker
An in-depth look at Vivien Leigh, the strikingly beautiful actress forever associated with Gone With the Wind. Alexander Walker does a good job telling Vivien’s story from her childhood in India and England to her stage and screen roles, including her memorable depictions of Scarlett O’Hara and Blanche DuBois, to her relationships, including her tumultuous marriage to Laurence Olivier. Throughout the book, Walker traces the early signs of and later destruction caused by her manic depression. Yet while some of the book's passages paint a colourful portrait, for example a description of a weekend at the Oliviers’ home Notley Abbey, others fall flat.

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