The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Books Reviews - By Alas­tair Mabbott


Ellen Wiles (Harper Collins, £8.99)

HAV­ING known nothing but civil war, and black­listed in his home coun­try, Yonas Ke­lati has fled war-torn Eritrea for Bri­tain. His asy­lum case lands on the desk of Jude Munroe, who has only a week or so to pre­pare for his hear­ing. If Jude is to de­fend Yonas’ claim in court, she will have to know as much as she can about his cir­cum­stances, so she goes look­ing for the peo­ple whose lives Yonas has touched since he was brought into the coun­try by a peo­ple traf­ficker who put him to work in a shell­fish fac­tory, and she lets their voices tell the story. Draw­ing on her ex­pe­ri­ence as a hu­man rights lawyer, Wiles fol­lows Yonas through ev­ery stage of the sys­tem, show­ing the hu­man story be­hind the cases that go be­fore Bri­tish courts. On the one hand, The In­vis­i­ble Crowd is an in­dict­ment of a de­hu­man­is­ing sys­tem, but it’s also an op­ti­mistic novel in praise of com­pas­sion and un­der­stand­ing.


Mary-Kay Wilmers (Pro­file, £12.99)

AS one of the founders of the Lon­don Re­view of Books, and its ed­i­tor-in­chief since 1992, Mary-Kay Wilmers’ con­tri­bu­tions to its pages are leg­endary. A se­lec­tion of them is re­pro­duced here, plucked from 40 years of es­says, book reviews and obit­u­ar­ies. Each one is a spring­board for foren­sic dis­cus­sion of the sub­ject in ques­tion, whether that’s the nar­cis­sism of Jean Rhys, the lovers of Vita SackvilleWest, Patty Hearst or the sur­pris­ing con­nec­tion be­tween an 1858 di­vorce case and the dis­cred­ited science of phrenol­ogy. Wilmers is highly lit­er­ate, in­formed, apho­ris­tic and, as John Lanch­ester points out in his in­tro­duc­tion, keen to show both sides of an ar­gu­ment, but a book­ful of th­ese pieces is per­haps eas­ier to ad­mire than en­joy. Aimed at the LRB read­er­ship, their tone might be a bit staid for less com­mit­ted read­ers, the un­der­stated wit a lit­tle on the don­nish side. But one is left in no doubt about Wilmers’ fear­some in­tel­li­gence.


Janet Todd (Fen­tum Press, £8.99) Sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian au­thor and aca­demic Janet Todd kept a di­ary through her can­cer ra­dio­ther­apy, as a “ver­bal seda­tive”. As a life­long lover of lit­er­a­ture she’s not sur­prised to find her mind fill­ing with ap­po­site apho­risms, anec­dotes and phrases from Mil­ton, Austen and Larkin dur­ing her daily ses­sions be­ing pounded by ra­di­a­tion. But she’s not used to in­tro­spec­tion, so hasn’t an­tic­i­pated that th­ese thoughts will be ac­com­pa­nied by mem­o­ries that come un­bid­den, of school in Wales, teach­ing in Amer­ica, stewed pets in Ghana. Worse, her fa­ther is los­ing his grip on life in the same hos­pi­tal. Dis­arm­ingly frank and un­sen­ti­men­tal, Todd’s di­ary doesn’t shy away from the rav­ages of the dis­ease and its treat­ment, and nei­ther does her sto­icism and black hu­mour com­pletely mask the pain and fear caused by her body re­belling against her.

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