Saturday 14 February 1998
The author was a stewardess aboard the ill-fated vessel. Her memoirs, discovered after her death in 1971, are crammed with detail, such as the ship's cat Jenny and "cold-eyed" professional gamblers. She gives a graphic account of the sinking - including her hesitation over which hat to wear on the lifeboat and the resentment that the pounds 10 given to each surviving crew member by the Mayor of Southampton was swiftly retrieved when he discovered they had also been given pounds 25 by the Daily Telegraph. The disaster occupies only 30 pages, but that is not the only feature of interest: Miss Jessop was shipwrecked again in 1916.
Gaglow by Esther Freud (Penguin, pounds 6.99)
Esther Freud's third novel alternates between conversations in a London flat between a pregnant woman and her artist father, and memories of "granny's" life in pre-war Berlin. Dual narratives can be hard to pull off, but Freud's descriptions of ancestral marzipan roses, Titian-haired nannies and First World War battlefields are convincingly meshed into a family psycho-drama that plays itself out in the sitting-rooms of St John's Wood several generations on.
Turner: a life by James Hamilton (Sceptre, pounds 7.99)
An excellent biography - revealing on the life, perceptive on the art. Britain's greatest painter was an indefatigable traveller ("from 1790- 1810, he came to know England as few others"), political radical and secret erotic artist. Despite his crotchety image, Turner was generous and engaging. He wittily deflected criticism at a dinner party: "Nice green, that lettuce, and the beetroot pretty red. Add some mustard and then you have one of my pictures." The dazzling wunderkind ended his days in drunken squalor, but Hamilton reminds us of the "overwhelming talent and physical resilience" of this "genius... before his time".
Hitler and Geli by Ronald Hayman (Bloomsbury, pounds 7.99)
A detailed and absorbing exploration of Hitler's secret relationship with his niece Geli Raubel. Though there is no conclusive proof that Hitler (a pathological misogynist) and Geli were lovers, they had been living together for four years when she was found shot dead, aged 23, in 1931. The official verdict was suicide, but Hayman speculates that Hitler may have killed her in a fit of rage when she revealed her pregnancy. Either way, there is no doubting the profound impact of her death upon him. Coming from the same family, Hitler felt no need to hide his shaming background from her: "Geli ... was his only friend."
Genesis by Robert Alter (Norton, pounds 9.95)
Believing modern versions to have "shaky English" and the King James Version to have "shaky Hebrew", Alter produced his own acclaimed translation of Genesis. At the outset, it takes a bit of getting used to: "When God began to create heaven and earth, and the earth was then welter and waste and darkness over the deep and God's breath hovering over the waters, God said, `Let there be light'." Similarly, Adam is introduced as "the human" and his name crops up only at the end of the chapter. But Alter's version is rigorously accurate and his grave, lucid poetry steadily grows on you.
Sex Crimes by Jenefer Shute (Vintage, pounds 6.99)
Jenefer Shute's sleekly written thriller set in the Szechuan restaurants and yuppie bars of downtown Boston is aimed at scaring the pants off any SWF looking for a date. Thirty-eight-year-old attorney Christine Chandler makes a big mistake when she shares a cab home with Scott, a good-looking younger man she meets at a friend's New Year's party. What starts off as a one-night stand turns into 10 months of illicit sex, and ends in a crime of hideous cruelty. A scarily plausible portrait of a woman who takes the compartmentalism of her life one step too far.
A Likeness in Stone by J Wallis Martin (New English Library, pounds 5.99)
Oxford whodunits never seem to lose their cosily gruesome appeal, and Wallis Martin's first novel of high tables and mortuary slabs is no exception. When a female body is recovered from the bottom of a local reservoir, a 20-year-old investigation into the case of missing Somerville student Helena Warner is reopened. Prime suspects: the mousy best friend, now a weirdo living in Warrington, and two boys from Worcester College with a secret to hide. To the rescue: DCI Driver of the Thames Valley Police (though not in a Jag).
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