Books of the month: From Rachel Cusk’s Second Place to Jhumpa Lahiri’s Whereabouts

Martin Chilton reviews six of May’s biggest releases for our monthly column

Tuesday 04 May 2021 10:49
<p>May’s books: a selection of history, biography and fiction</p>

May’s books: a selection of history, biography and fiction


here’s a strange synchronicity to May’s books. The protagonist of Rachel Cusk’s superb new novel Second Place is warned that “you can’t expect to keep a snake as a pet”, in reference to the disaster that unfolds after she invites a cruel, egotistical artist to stay at her remote coastal home. In the acknowledgements, Cusk writes that Second Place owes a debt to Mabel Dodge Luhan’s 1932 memoir about the time DH Lawrence came to stay with her in Taos, New Mexico. “My version – in which the Lawrence figure is a painter, not a writer – is intended as a tribute to her spirit,” writes Cusk.

This struck a resounding bell because I had just finished reading about the poisonous Lawrence and his relationship with Dodge in Frances Wilson’s new biography of the writer, in which Dodge’s husband Tony (the name given to a central character in Second Place) describes Lawrence as “a snake”. Both books are reviewed in full below, along with a non-fiction gem by Dr Emily Mayhew, novels by Jhumpa Lahiri and Rahul Raina, and a fascinating new study of Alfred Hitchcock by Edward White.

I confess I’d never heard of Marguerite Jervis (1886-1964), the author of 149 books, 11 of which were adapted for the cinema, including ones (more coincidence) by Hitchcock. In The Queen of Romance – Marguerite Jervis: A Biography (Honno), Liz Jones pieces together the eventful life of this Burma-born pioneer, including her abusive marriage. Jervis worked in Fleet Street, acted alongside Gloria Swanson, and wrote risqué novels. Many of her books were written under a fake male pen name, Oliver Sandys, and exposed the sexual abuse and addiction problems of chorus girls. Jervis was a trailblazer and merits this publishing spotlight.

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