Sunday 02 June 1996
When Daddy Came Home: How Family Life Changed Forever in 1945 by Barry Turner and Tony Rennell, Pimlico pounds 10. More than four million service personnel - mostly men - were demobilised in the months following VE Day, and it is a safe bet that, for nine out of ten, the event failed to live up to expectations. In the words of one articulate female informant, "the boys that came back were not the boys who went away. They were men. Different men with different ideas and they found us different too." This mixture of conventional and oral history tells of men decanted bewilderingly into Civvy Street. They couldn't believe how things had changed: jobs were scarce, they had children who didn't know them, some of their wives had taken up with other men. This book, scattered with tears and tragedies, shows that the suffering did not end with Germany's surrender.
Reason, Ridicule and Religion: The Age of the Enlightenment in England 1660-1750 by John Redwood, Thames and Hudson pounds 14.95. This study of atheism in intellectual life between the ages of Hobbes and Johnson reaches paperback 20 years after its first publication, and the author warns us in his new introduction not to confuse Historian Redwood, the youthful Fellow of All Souls, with right-wing Politician Redwood who challenged John Major for the leadership of Britain. Yet they are the same man. Politician Redwood is keen on family values and free markets, and loathes hypocrisy. Historian Redwood is immersed in old debates about - among other things - family values, free thinking and hypocrisy. Politician Redwood says that Historian Redwood never took sides, and to a large extent this is a well-researched piece of historical reporting. Still, if you get bored you can go through the text replacing "The Church" with, say, "Brussels", and "atheism" with "the free market". It isn't legitimate, but it's fun.
Red Earth and Pouring Rain by Vikram Chandra, Faber pounds 7.99. Delhi-born, Boston-domiciled Chandra has written a huge cross-cultural novel which combines the multi-stranded myths and stories of the Indian tradition with 19th-century realism and post-modern playfulness. There are two centres of action: the road-movie of an Indian student's odyssey through modern America and the story of two friends, poet Sanjay and fighter Sikander, at the time of the Indian Mutiny. The book is passionately anti-British, and openly professes its disgust at the disabling coldness of occidental culture, the worship of efficiency, self-interest and reason. But for all the heat he generates, Chandra's politics are craftily presented in a mythological framework involving Hindu gods and monkeys pounding typewriters. A considerable achievement.
Barbara Hepworth: A Life of Forms by Sally Festing, Penguin pounds 9.99. Hepworth, according to her biographer (unofficial and so cut off from the family papers), "set out to prove that practically and intellectually she could match a man, yet her greatest respect and admiration was reserved for the male". These heroes included Herbert Read and Henry Moore as well as her two husbands, John Skeaping and Ben Nicholson - all of them first- team players in the British modern movement. Talent apart, Hepworth's success in matching them was thanks to stamina (despite at one point "a bottle of whisky a day") and intense dedication. There are few laughs in this book and some tired, unnecessary similes, but the descriptions of the sculptures are excellent.
Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir, Arrow pounds 8.99. Shakespeare's plays give many of us our idea of the history of the English crown between 1400, when Richard II was so brutally offed, and 1471, the year Henry VI died after "a severe blow to the head" and the Lancastrian cause was lost. Alison Weir, noted for her The Princes in the Tower, gives an account generally in accord with the Shakespearean view of an England that "hath long been mad and scarred herself" with blood lust and power play, treachery and foolishness. It is disappointing, though, to discover "there is no truth" in the scene of Somerset and York commencing hostilities in the garden of the Inns of Court by plucking white and red roses. Although the white bloom was already a Yorkist emblem, "there is no evidence that the red rose was used by the House of Lancaster at this date". All in all Weir shows herself an astute and informative stylist.
Morvern Caller by Alan Warner, Vintage pounds 5.99. From the opening words - "He'd cut his throat with the knife. He'd near cut off his hand with the meat cleaver" - Morvern Caller, 21-year-old shelf-stacker in a run- down Scottish fishing port, looks to be in trouble. For Morvern and all her friends, work is slow humiliation. But you're hooked up to a money- drip, the loot needed for takeaways and Silk Cuts and getting mortal on Chaos (Southern Comfort and Baileys) or buying tabs, going raving and getting rampant. But when her peculiar boyfriend takes the ultimate trip and leaves her in possession of his corpse, his cashcard and his unpublished novel, Morvern begins to grope her way towards something new, even a self- generated kind of happiness. Another account of working-class life in the Celtic hinterland, unflinching in facing up to degradation, yet cut with humour, tenderness and poetry.
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Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 What marriage would look like if we actually followed the Bible
- 2 President Obama leaves touching comment on Humans of New York photo from Iran
- 3 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 4 The Chinese city where men have 'three girlfriends because there are so many women'
- 5 'Heartbreaking' Syria orphan photo wasn't taken in Syria and not of orphan
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Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Refugees welcome: More than 250,000 sign Independent petition calling for Britain to 'take its fair share'