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Rachel Redford

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"Restless he rolls from whore to whore"

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-06-20

Lord Rochester invented the "Merry Monarch" title for Charles II as well as this headline. With his insatiable appetite for women and fine food, it seems fitting, but it doesn't seem very merry to self-dose and finally self-poison with mercury in the vain hope that it will protect you from venereal disease. or to suffer agonies of gout and obesity from vast over-eating which is what the ebullient and genial Charles II did.

Linda Porter's quite brief clearly researched account of the seven most important women in Charles' life rips along at a good pace and is crammed with detail, from the incredibly vast sums of money lavished on these women to the galley slaves who manned the ships carrying dignitaries to England. She also lays out succinctly the political backdrop to these liaisons and the minutiae of the excessively hedonistic court life.

Poor Catherine of Braganzia brought to Charles' court from Portugal to marry the King! Suffering from ghastly sea-sickness, she arrived in England ill and exhausted with no great celebrations to welcome her to the alien land where Charles' long-term mistress Barbara Villiers later made Duchess of Portsmouth, was reigning high. Despite writing effusively to his new mother-in-law about his delight with his new wife, Charles found her completely unappealing whilst Catherine fell in love with him and stayed devoted, despite the pain and suffering his antics with his endless mistresses gave her. She never managed to produce an heir, suffering only miscarriages as Charles' many bastard children prospered. It was only on his death bed in 1685, 25 years after the Restoration, that Charles revealed his sorrow at the way he had treated her.

Charles' mistresses detailed here from the most famous, the raised-in-a-brothel Nell Gwyn to the aristocratic Louise de Keroualle (who held the record at 15 years for her role as maitresse-en-titre) are majestic in their ambition, rivalries and eccentricities. Barbara Villiers had herself painted by Peter Lely with herself as the Madonna and her bastard child as a thumping great baby Jesus.

It's a serious work which carries its authority lightly - a very enjoyable, lively recreation of that extraordinary Court. Julie Teal reads it very well, but I think it's a pity that when she has obviously taken the trouble to pronounce the many French names correctly, she makes errors with English words: mores; forte and scurrilous, the latter many times as it's an obvious adjectives for much of went on!

An impossible act to follow

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 17-05-20

When I started listening to this, I was all set to return it. I found Shelley Klein's delivery dreary, her voice apparently afflicted by clogged sinuses. I'm very glad that I persevered despite the narration (the sinus condition did improve), because it is one of the most unusual & beautifully expressed memoirs, and the most powerful analysis of grief that I have ever read.

Shelley Klein was born in 1963 to Bernat & Peggy Klein in the ultra modernist house, High Sunderland, designed by Bernat's friend the distinguished architect Peter Wormersley in the late 1950s. Built on the Scottish borders, it is a single storey ingenious interconnection of areas, the whole house bathed in light from the vast expanses of glass which draws in the carefully designed green spaces outside. From white crockery, chairs (not to be sat on) & tablecloths and napkins dyed to match in an array of colours, every object within was exquisitely designed. This is the house embedded into Shelley's fabric and soul.

The book is a paean to the entwined beings of her father, the house and herself. It is as deep textured as the textiles which Beri (as she called her father) designed and which were adopted by fashion houses including Dior and Chanel in the 1960s and 1970s. Shelley is as sensitive as her father to the colours of the landscape which he wove into his textiles and art - her descriptions of colours are beautiful.

After decades away, Shelley returned to High Sunderland to look after her father after the death of his precious wife. Her memories weave through the past and present with the gigantic presence of this colossus of a father, a Jugoslavian Jewish emigre whose mother had died most cruelly in Auschwitz. His past was thus too painful for him to contemplate; High Sunderland represented the future. Nothing must spoil the lines in the house: no mis-placed coat, no pot of herbs.How she had longed as a child for a dog or a Christmas tree!

Beri's adamantine mind set could infuriate her; they do argue. But they're bound by a love so deep that life after his death in his nineties, Shelley suffers agonies of grief anatomised with searing honesty and insight. How could anything match what was past? How could she ever 'move on' and leave this house?

The books is beautifully written ( "the porcelain calm of a Spring morning"); her metaphors are striking as in the "emotional origami" of grief as the past falls in on itself. A wonderful book!




More text book than story

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 08-05-20

Essential reading / listening for mothers - new or experienced - although if you're expecting your third child, you may do well to read something else!

It's certainly compulsive listening and makes a very strong case for understanding the terrible pressures on mothers, especially on those juggling work & motherhood, and those struggling (and failing) to cope with crying babies and sleep deprivation. The main story is about super-efficient Jess accused of hurting her non-stop crying baby, her third child. Betsy. We know of course that Jess didn't hurt her baby, but someone did. Betsy has a serious head injury and Jess has fallen apart after a traumatic birth experience, unable to soothe her demanding baby which makes her feel a freak-mother and a complete failure. Her friend Liz is a doctor (fortunately!) at the hospital where Betsy is taken and the story unravels the relationships between a group of women friends since ante-natal classes days which includes Jess and Liz.

It's good that it explores with sympathy and tender understanding the sufferings of women like Jess (and Liz's own mother it is later revealed) and it has an ultimately happy ending. Many readers will find it comforting and perhaps learn for the first time there are other mothers who are as worried and desperate as they are, and that there is a way through it all. This is all great, but it doesn't make for the best kind of fiction as the author's agenda is so obvious.

Really fresh and original

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-05-20

Categorising this book as a thriller , or even a crime novel, does it a great dis-service. There are certainly some intriguing mysteries, but above all it's a story of the healing power of love. I loved it.

The setting is in the house of an Oxford College Master, with its sinister priest's hole and prized William Morris wallpaper, where Dee, rootless in Oxford and far from her Scottish home, is looking after Felicity, the 8 year-old daughter of the authoritarian Master who lives with his blonde, pregnant Danish second wife, Mariah, who fails utterly to understand Felicity. They are hopelessly negligent parents to Felicity who, traumatised by the death of her mother (more of that mystery ensues), has been an elective mute for the last 4 years.

The gradual trust, love and finally speech between Dee and Felicity is endearingly developed, as is the growing relationship between Dee and Mr Linklater, the local historian who is researching the past of the Master's rambling house. Crimes have been and are committed. How did Felicity's mother die if not from cancer as her husband claimed? What happened to Dee's baby girl? Answers to similar questions are drip fed seamlessly and unshockingly into the narrative, merging with the crimes committed in previous centuries in the Master's secret-holding old house. We're constantly being pressed to question crime and punishment.

Right at the beginning Felicity has gone missing and the story weaves backwards and forwards, taking in the police investigation. It's not until the Epilogue when we're rooting for the 'crime' to go unpunished that the mystery if Felicity's disappearance is solved.

I liked the narration: Dee's Scots accent and Mariah's Danish, which becomes slightly more manic as her life disintegrates, are well done. Unusual and absorbing!

2 people found this helpful

"Red Hot with secrets"

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 21-04-20

I was wary of Kate Elizabeth Russell's debut novel focused on the sexual abuse of 15 year-old Vanessa by her 40 year-old teacher for which she has received a 7-figure advance. It sounded like a sensational jump on the abuse bandwagon, but in fact it is fair, honest, subtle, nuanced and convincing.

Russell charts Vanessa's life backwards and forwards, from the first time her teacher Strane (Vanessa never calls him by his first name, nor 'Daddy' as he wants to be called) touched her knee under the school desk, until she's a tormented, undeniably damaged 32 in a dull job, drinking too much and indulging in casual meaningless sex with deeply unattractive older men.

It's all told in Vanessa's voice and her addiction to Strane, her craving desire for the dangerous darkness he offers her is wholly persuasive. There's insight too into Strane (victim or perpetrator?) and there's an undeniable deeply entrenched bond between them. There's also a great deal of minutely detailed sexual activity. For Vanessa it's a tender love story at the same time as recognising the ripples of damage, destruction and ruin which their 'love' causes. Russell makes us fully under stand when adult Vanessa muses "I wasn't RAPED raped".

It must have been a very difficult book to narrate and Grace Gummer does a good job. On one level it's flat and dreary (and of course American), but this reflects the death of what Vanessa could and should have become. But there is also an emotional depth in many of her internal monologues & musings. I gave it 4 not 5 because it's too long - there was too much detail on her later life.

This is certainly a book for now!

Pop and chips

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-04-20

This is a very unusual memoir - like a patchwork quilt of pop songs sewn together to make the fabric of Pete Paphides' life. He's the son of a Greek mother (hugely loved) and Cypriot father who came to England on the promise of a job at Birmingham's Longbridge factory when Takis (as he was) was very young. There was no such job and Pete's parents ran a series of fish and chip shops, always hoping to return to the country they loved. But the 1974 war and partition scotched those hopes, casting a pall of yearning, discord and sadness over his hugely hard-working parents.

The book is a staggeringly detailed life led through the words of pop songs from the 70s onwards - words which spoke to Pete even if he couldn't fully understand them, feeding his mind and soul as the gulf between the cultures in his family yawned ever wider as he became more English and his parents' relationship came under greater strain. It's astonishing how Pete can remember so much of his child-self (including 4 years as a selective mute in the early years of his life in England). The music, Dial-a-Disc, record shops and Pete's love for his mother were the anchors in his fractured home, where he remained Takis to his broken parents.

Pete / Peter / Takis has a self-deprecating laugh-aloud wit and a sharp, incisive writing style with a startling immediacy. I gave it 4, not 5 because it's too long. Great chunks about football and some of the details of songs, music & singers are ill-disciplined: excessive and merely detract.

But it's well worth listening to and in places (particularly concerning his parents) very moving, and it gave me insights into all those songs I've heard but whose mind-blowing messages I must admit have largely passed me by. Pete's mother would be working until late at night every night; finally Pete's father said he could never visit Cyprus again because he could never bear the pain of leaving.Through those songs Pete came to terms with living with the effects of loss suffered by his totally work-absorbed parents leaving their beloved country and never returning.

Jumping on a sinking ship

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 28-03-20

"If I hadn't been born, Boris would never have been Prime Minister," Rachel Johnson claims in this gutsy, guileless account of her lamentable failure to stand as an MEP candidate for the new-born pro-Remain Change UK party which was doomed to ignominious failure despite the Herculean efforts of its dis-organised members to keep it going. Rachel (Rake to her family & hence the book's witty title) was, as she quipped catastrophically in a Times interview, the rat that jumped ONTO the sinking ship. The gargantuan human effort, time and money poured into the run-up to the ultimate failure of Change UK is detailed at breathless speed as Rachel whizzes between London and the West Country.

Yes, Boris probably wouldn't have been PM if he hadn't had his little sister only 15 months younger than he was, fiercely clever, tough, determined, ambitious, savagely competitive snapping at his heels. No wonder as a child Boris said he was going to be 'king of the world'. The book is fascinating in its absolute honesty as Rachel's faults and shortcomings are ruthlessly laid bare. Her rapier-sharp facts and opinions about people are deliciously indiscreet. Her arch Brexit enemy outspoken Ann Widdicombe probably loathes Rachel as much as Rachel loathes Ann; Meghan Markle's ordered home birth ended up as a Medivac to hospital; Rachel's friend and foul-mouthed tennis partner David Cameron is described in print as an 'egg-faced c***'.

Rachel's fierce love for Boris is obvious, even though she is sick of always being called Boris's sister, and the soreness of her star sinking as his was rising astronomically must have been extremely galling. What I found most interesting was the family background - her mother who sat her finals pregnant with her first child, an artist who displays paintings of herself and Rachel's stepfather on the walls, and above all her father Stanley (currently seemingly on every celebrity show there is) who has achieved the life he never had through his eldest son. Rachel admits to the Oedipal in this, and you can't help feeling sorry for the man for whom his son's Brexit is viscerally against all that he holds dear. Rachel ponders whether Johnson family Christmas dinner can happen again.

There's no denying Rachel's phenomenal powerful cleverness. Her writrng is crisp and witty filled with literary and cultural allusions, inventive metaphors and similes and laugh-aloud playing with words - the 'poo-nami' which is baby-care, and the 'catastrof***' which is Change UK's trajectory. You may lose patience with Rachel at times - having been criticised for having two Agas, she justifies it by saying that she has two houses! But you have to admire her. It takes guts and commitment to fight a public battle you know you'll lose - and it all makes great listening.

A wonderful, wonderful 9 hours!

Overall
5 out of 5 stars
Performance
4 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 26-03-20

I LOVED this - it's an unsentimental, tough, heart-breaking, heart-warming story about the power of love.

Tom is a sheep farmer in Australia leading his lonely, hard, sometimes brutal life tending his "woollies". His new wife Trudy unlocks his heart, only to shatter it by leaving him twice, the second time taking with her to Jesus Camp little Peter, the product of her brief affair, the child Tom loved above all else. Life is beyond desolate and painful for Tom until a seemingly impossible passionate love develops between Tom and Hannah, a spirited, eccentric Hungarian Jewish woman older than himself, who has the apparently crazy ambition of opening a book shop in this culturally bleak area of Australia. Hannah had suffered terrible unbearable loss in the WW2 concentration camps, including having her only beloved child wrenched from her.

To detail the convolutions of this heart-stopping story would spoil it. Enough to say that the painful, treacherous, delicate process of regeneration takes tenuous root. It's a serious, rough, rugged story with murder, extreme cruelty administered in the name of Jesus, and the annihilation of Jewish people. Amidst all this is the uplifting story of Tom and Hannah which I didn't want to end.

The narration adds another dimension with the Australian and East European accents, but I gave it only a 4 because the sentences are weighted in a curious and repetitive way.

In these dire times, we need books like these to lose ourselves in. Get listening!

a phenomenal family like no other

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
3 out of 5 stars
Story
5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 13-03-20

This book is a ragged assembly of short pieces written apparently by Greta Thunberg, her sister Beata, her mother Malena and father Svante, although (partly because it's on audio, not a printed book) it's far from clear who wrote what as the structure is so haphazard. Another problem with it is the narration. I presume Mya Lindh is Swedish and I'm afraid that even though her voice is pleasant, there is no nuance and no variation of expression which makes listening for over 7 hours tedious. I persevered with it because I wanted to understand the extraordinary phenomenon which is GretaThunberg, the 17 year-old with a history of severe mental conditions (Aspergers, autism, eating disorders, mutism...) who has had world leaders greeting her, and massive crowds of mainly very young girls listening to her like some re-enactment of the Children's Crusade. The book certainly does provide that background.

And what a background! The hell the family went through since the children's births with two seriously affected non-conformist daughters (Greta refused to eat for months on end; Beata had titanic rages and hurled abuse and objects at her understandably end-of-her-tether mother). Malena (an opera singer with her own enormous talents and mental issues going back to childhood) and her husband have been brought close to mental and physical total burn-out and collapse as they have fought for their girls.

Listening to this tells us exactly how the obsessions with a single topic typical of autism saved the life of this fearfully troubled child and her family. Literally. Greta's unshakable belief in her message is manna to her audience of particularly young children whose anxiety about the planet has been massively increased by social media. As Malena tells us, depression and anxiety amongst children has rocketed. Climate change and its off-shoots of destruction of our planet are reported again and again throughout this book - (the whole needed tighter editing). But the statistics provided are truly fearful, deeply distressing and Greta's blame-laying and assertions are wholly justified. I do wonder where the family goes from here.

This is a book that should be heard, but don't expect to enjoy it!









a brave book well worth listening to

Overall
4 out of 5 stars
Performance
5 out of 5 stars
Story
4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 02-03-20

In her postscript, the author says this a story for NOW, linking the climatic disasters to our current climate changes. An interesting idea!
Glasfurd's research is evident (but well incorporated) in these stories of 6 people experiencing the catastrophic fall-out following the volcanic eruption of Tambora in Indonesia in 1815. Before listening to this, you need to get these 6 characters straight: Mary Shelley; Charles, Vermont preacher; John Constable artist; Sarah farm labourer; Peter soldier returning from the Napoleonic wars; Henry ship's surgeon sent to investigate the eruption. Without this outline, you're likely to be as confused as I was - no doubt the jumps from one to the other is clearer on the printed page. I would have preferred to hear each story in turn through to its end rather than this constant irritating flitting from one to another just as I'd got immersed in one.

It's probably possible to enjoy these stories even if you have no knowledge of the events (the eruption; the lives, relationships & work of Mary Shelley & Constable; the hunger riots in England etc) but I think it's better if you do. There is plenty of fine writing and descriptive detail - I liked Constable stippling pewter, grey and white to paint the wind - and moods, dialogues and very different lives are brought vitally alive and real. The narrator is very good with a wide range of voices and accents.

One element spoiled the whole for me, and that was the author choosing to put f*** and f****** into the mouths of virtually every character from every social class at every opportunity. I don't object on grounds of offence, but of anachronism. Glasfurd has gone to great lengths to create an authentic slice of history with considerable success, but if her research had covered the history of swearing , I'm sure she'd have found that f*** was used vulgarly as a verb to mean to fornicate at this time, but was not used as a catch-all expletive on every occasion. If she'd used it sparingly, it might have slipped by, but it is used again and again and again. I do wonder at the author's rationale behind this glaring anachronism.

1 person found this helpful