The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year, By Sue Townshend
The Brain is Wider than the Sky, By Bryan Appleyard
Letter to My Daugther, By Maya Angelou
In Other Worlds, By Margaret Atwood
White Truffles in Winter, By NM Kelby

Paperback reviews of the week

The Woman who Went to Bed for a Year, By Sue Townsend

Penguin £7.99

**

On the second page of Sue Townsend's novel, the reader is surprised to come across the following sentence: "She then went upstairs, into her bedroom and, without removing her clothes or her shoes, got into bed and stayed there for a year."

Both the content and the style of that sentence announce the kind of novel we are to expect: humorous, quirky, perverse, protesting.

The woman in question, Eva Beaver, does indeed stay in bed for a whole year (except to walk along a sheet to go to the bathroom), radically changing her relationships with her astronomer husband (who is useless in the sack but is nevertheless having an affair with a fellow astronomer, with whom he sleeps in the shed), her son and her daughter (a pair of brainiac twins studying astrophysics at university), and a host of other crazy characters, including the members of the great British public who set up camp outside her house, convinced that she is some sort of seer. Eva's new friend and love interest, Alexander, the black white-van driver, guards the door and brings her meals in bed.

It all sounds promising, but somehow it does not come off. The flat, deadpan tone stops being amusing after a while, and the quirkiness feels contrived. Townsend deliberately makes her characters say silly things so she can laugh at them for being so silly. Well, all humorous writers do that, but it's not supposed to be so obvious.

I don't like criticising Sue Townsend, who is the creator of Adrian Mole and some very funny plays, but she leaves me no choice.

 

The Brain is Wider than the Sky, By Bryan Appleyard

Phoenix £9.99

***

In this book – the title of which comes from an Emily Dickinson poem – Bryan Appleyard aims to prove that the brain, or, as he would put it, the mind, is far too wide for the reductive explanations of neuroscience, computer science or evolutionary biology. There is a fascinating argument to be had about whether science can ultimately explain everything, or, indeed, whether we could ever know in advance whether it can or not; but Appleyard doesn't engage with it. Instead we get an amiable tour around the latest scientific developments, and the insistent claim that the truth must be complex, not simple. Well yes, probably, but the book raises philosophical questions it does not explore. It is journalism, rather than an intellectual argument, but it is thought-provoking journalism, nevertheless.

 

Letter to My Daughter, By Maya Angelou

Virago £8.99

***

The subject matter of this collection of 28 short essays and mini-memoirs, addressed to the daughter Maya Angelou never had, ranges enormously. Topics include feasting on red rice and chicken, making friends with strangers, being beaten up by a homicidally jealous lover, black American poetry, and the author's own take on Christianity. Angelou is not afraid to recount her personal embarrassments and errors, such as the time she mistakenly walked all over the tablecloth at a dinner in Senegal, or when she accused a waitress of refusing to serve her for racist reasons, when in fact the restaurant had unfortunately run out of grits. To be frank, the style can be pedestrian at times but the content is candid, sensitive and empathetic, and displays an enormous zest for life.

 

In Other Worlds, By Margaret Atwood

Virago £9.99

****

Margaret Atwood has been an aficionado of science fiction all her reading and writing life as well as a practitioner of it in such novels as The Handmaid's Tale – or at least, she is a practitioner of "speculative fiction", which she defines as stories about things that could happen but haven't happened yet. Obviously the distinction isn't hard and fast, and Atwood explores it in this engaging collection of literary essays, focusing on classic texts which one might not automatically think of as canonical contributions to the sci-fi genre: Orwell's 1984, Wells's The Island of Dr Moreau, Rider Haggard's She, Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go and Swift's Gulliver's Travels. The book also includes a selection of "tributes" to sci-fi forms from Atwood's own work, dealing with cryogenics, alien visitation, time capsules and the peach women of the planet Aa'A.

 

White Truffles in Winter, By N M Kelby

Alma Books £12.99

**

On the eve of the Great War, the great French chef Auguste Escoffier, an old man by now, is asked by his betrayed wife for

a recipe to immortalise her. So N M Kelby's novel is told in a series of flashbacks, each attached to a recipe which memorialises the peaks and troughs of his life: the Siege of Paris, the meals he cooked for royalty, his affair with Sarah Bernhardt. Irritatingly, Kelby has a tendency to state the obvious – the Titanic's voyage is described as "momentous yet ultimately unfortunate" – and though this is a vivid and detailed reconstruction of a bygone era, on the whole it's a pretty hammy performance. I do like the recipes, though.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

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.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there