Book Reviews - February 2019

Book Reviews – February 2019

Elizabeth Kay offers Sussex Living readers her thoughts on recent reads that have caught her attention. She gives her views on a selection of books from different genres which may capture your interest.

HOW TO BUILD A GIRL

by Caitlin Moran (Ebury Press)

Don’t be put off by the first chapter of this, as it gets better. Caitlin Moran is an award-winning columnist in The Times, and co-author of the TV series, Raised by Wolves. If you’ve seen that, this book won’t be a great surprise as the setting and the characters are very similar, and the content somewhat autobiographical. She had no formal education from the age of eleven, but became a music critic at sixteen. Nevertheless, she does write extremely well and the characters leap off the page. The book is set in Wolverhampton in the 1990’s, before the age of social media. The TV series was updated to the present day, which made it somewhat anachronistic as that’s a hard jump to achieve successfully. The ending of the book is a bit of a disappointment, but a clear lead-in to a sequel. How to Build a Girl is funny, occasionally shocking, and painfully honest about the experience of being a teenage girl. Those of you of an older generation may remember Groupie, by Jenny Fabian and Johnny Byrne, published in 1969. The rock world was just as outrageous in those days – perhaps even more so.

BIRD COTTAGE

by Eva Meijer (Pushkin Press)

This book was originally written in Dutch although the principle character, a woman called Len Howard, was British. The translation by Antoinette Fawcett, however, is exquisite. Len was a violinist, and after an unhappy love affair with an artist she came into an inheritance and bought a cottage in Sussex. She was enchanted by the birds that visited her garden, and they became so tame that they flew in and out of her house, perched on her shoulder, and took peanuts from her fingers. She started to study them properly, giving each one a name and observing them in as much detail as Jane Goodall later studied her chimpanzees. This flew in the face of contemporary behaviourist thought which stated that the only good research is that which is reproducible in a static environment. Len’s view was that this was not natural behaviour, and that birds behave differently when they’re free. The intelligence of her great tits, their ability to count and their relationships with one another are an eye-opener. And the day the blue tits ask for her help because their nestbox has fallen to the ground is really moving. I loved every word of this – I had great tits nesting in my garden last spring, and I think Len was right about every detail.

TOMMY TWIGTREE AND THE CARROT CRUNCHERS

by Michael Firman (Clink Street Publishing)

This is an attractive-looking book for pre-school children, to be read by a parent. The story is simple – Olive Onion is lonely, and Tommy Twigtree says he can help as Charlie Carrot is looking for a home for his seeds. The baby carrots grow up nice and chatty, but the local rabbits get wind of them and invade the vegetable patch. Freddie the Fox is the local policeman, and he is called in to arrest the rabbits. They promise never to do anything like that again, and everyone is happy. Other than, perhaps, anyone who is trying to get a child to eat their carrots, and giving them personalities isn’t going to help…

The illustrations by Nick Roberts are clear and colourful, and there are lots of little incidentals to find such as mice and snails and birds and the cat next door, who peers over the fence every so often. I was particularly taken by the insects – the ladybird with a flashing light and a police whistle is delightful. This isn’t very long, so it’s a one-night bedtime story.