Paperback reviews: Back In Blighty; Almost English; Lost, Stolen Or Shredded; The Book Of Rachael; Life Below Stairs

Back In Blighty By Gerard Degroot (Vintage £9.99)

This updated edition of DeGroot’s 1996 history, Blighty, is timely, of course, but his argument that the First World War “did not bring forth a deluge of social and political change” is still a relevant and controversial one. Certainly he has marshalled enough evidence to support that claim: that class barriers remained the same, that class identity was reinforced but not necessarily radicalised. The war helped bring more women into work but, with only a few exceptions, it largely reinforced gender stereotypes: women as nurses, men as fighters.

And the notion of a “lost generation” was little more than a myth: DeGroot argues that perhaps the real generation lost to us was the one that survived not the one that died, “those who had to shoulder the burden of loss ... those who had to continue on horror, grief and guilt,” especially as we cannot be sure of exactly how many men died during the conflict. Numbers range from half a million to over a million.

What the war shows for DeGroot is an emphasis on British conservatism, a determination to man the barricades not just against an invading enemy but against change. Not even a global war could shift attitudes. Drawing on diaries, advertisements, and newspapers, he draws a picture of an unattractive Britain: racist, deceptive, cruel (the treatment of conscientious objectors was little short of horrific), its Army full of vagrants and criminals, its government set on a course of war it was ill-equipped to fight, never mind win. Even Vera Brittain gets it in the neck.

Arguments about the real need for this war will rage on, but for all the doom-and-gloom of DeGroot’s study, perhaps it is encouraging that war in general isn’t the socially progressive tool it’s sometimes viewed as. It would be a sorry state for all of us if it were.

****

Almost English By Charlotte Mendelson (Picador £7.99)

There’s something slightly disingenuous about this tale of a classic outsider, teenage Marina, and her abandoned mother, Laura, who live with Marina’s three Hungarian great-aunts in a tiny flat in London. It’s the sheer polish and sophistication of the writing, which doesn’t quite sit with the ungainliness that Marina feels, for ever in love with the unapproachable Simon Flowers but destined to be groped by the lesser Guy Viney (and then, even worse, by his famous father). And it doesn’t sit with Laura’s endless haplessness, either, whose affair with a married man peaks just as her wastrel husband comes back into her life. Mendelson spins and dances and sparkles her way through this ugly duckling story, so that whilst one may admire the writing, one is never really convinced that Marina is quite the failure she thinks she is. The three aunts, meanwhile, given walk-on parts in a novel about what it means not to be English and how tricky it is to fit in, are utterly believable and deserve a book all to themselves.

***

Lost, Stolen Or Shredded Rick Gekoski (Profile £8.99)

What’s particularly interesting about the rare book dealer Gekoski’s study of “missing” works is that he doesn’t just look at those which actually existed (alongside the burning of Byron’s letters, we might also think of the ones Jane Austen’s sister Cassandra destroyed) and which are now gone for ever. He also looks at works of art that never existed in the first place: what architecture Charles Rennie Macintosh might have produced had he lived in more favourable times, for example. It’s more than a nostalgic game or a kick at our culture, it’s about present absences, about those gaps that we sense should be filled. It’s why stolen works of art have such an impact on a collective consciousness.

***

The Book Of Rachael By Leslie Cannold (Text Publishing £8.99)

Australian non-fiction writer Cannold invents a sister for the historical Jesus, who rebels from an early age. Rachael cuts off her hair, learns to read, interrupts Jewish services. But it’s also a mother-daughter story, of conflict between one who does her duty and one who refuses to. Cannold walks an interesting line between faith and history here, as she explores an alternative Virgin birth storyline (what happens to unmarried women in this society who fall pregnant means, inevitably, that they are keen to stress the intervention of a god). While Cannold lacks the inventive intellectualism of say, Jenny Diski’s Only Human, she does shine a different light on a contested era.

***

Life Below Stairs: The Real Lives Of Servants, 1939 To The Present By Pamela Horn (Amberley £9.99)

Horn’s second Life Below Stairs book (the first took in the Edwardian era to the outbreak of the Second World War) plunges in with figures before you really have a chance to assess what the argument is, or where the book is going generally. Her strengths lie in her recourse to the actual words of those employed as servants, but there’s less from those employed here these days from abroad, on how they feel about their employers and their conditions, than there is from those from the past. Five-star hotels have replaced grand houses, and working mothers have become the new middle-class domestic employers, but it seems little has really changed.

**

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished

TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies

Arts and Entertainment
Australia's Eurovision contestant and former Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian

Eurovision 2015Australian Idol winner unveiled as representative Down Under

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable