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A SUMP­TU­OUS SPREAD THIS MONTH — TRY TO CLEAR SOME TIME AWAY FROM THE USUAL HOUSE­HOLD DE­MANDS TO DO JUS­TICE TO THESE DEEPLY SAT­IS­FY­ING AU­THORS.

Country Style - - CONTENTS - REVIEWS ANNABEL LAW­SON

MARY QUANT Jenny Lis­ter, V&A Pub­li­ca­tions, $59.99

Be­fore Mary Quant burst upon the Bri­tish, and sub­se­quently global fashion scene, in the 1960s women in their 20s dressed like their moth­ers in twin-sets, pearls and tweed skirts. Quant’s clothes were ar­chi­tec­tural, mostly in neu­tral nat­u­ral fab­rics, al­though she used shiny black PVC with great panache. As she said her­self, these stark creations “were cu­ri­ously fem­i­nine”. Along with a few other mav­er­icks on the Kings Road, Chelsea, she in­vented the miniskirt. Her co-creator of an en­tirely new breed of women was Vi­dal Sas­son, the bru­tal­ist hair­dresser who could make even the most win­some model look as if she was star­ing out from un­der the blade of a guil­lo­tine. Her fame was helped by peppy in­ter­views. She told The Guardian that she dyed her pu­bic hair green and her hus­band trimmed it with nail scis­sors into the shape of a heart. A year ago London’s Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum sent out a call for sur­viv­ing Quant orig­i­nals. They showed the col­lec­tion this year and in­cluded ac­ces­sories, home­wares and her sig­na­ture brand of cos­met­ics. Mary Quant gave us a look that both thrilled and in­tim­i­dated men. A decade later Ger­maine Greer pro­vided the solid ar­gu­ments for why we should stop want­ing to be like ladies. Lis­ter’s book is about the changes wrought by clothes alone. In 2015 the Queen made the 85-year-old rebel a Dame and ap­par­ently Quant was well chuffed.

WORK­ING

Robert A. Caro, Bod­ley Head, $49.99

The se­cret of man­ag­ing Christ­mas, bud­get wise, is to start buy­ing presents early on. I’ve picked this one for your most in­tel­lec­tual friend, or for a jour­nal­ist. Caro is a his­to­rian. When he was un­able to fin­ish his first com­mis­sioned bi­og­ra­phy in time, his wife Ina sold their house so they could af­ford to carry on. In the full­ness of time Caro found an agent who switched him to a pub­lisher who gives Caro all the time he wants. His five-vol­ume bi­og­ra­phy of LBJ, The Years of Lyn­don John­son, has taken 40 years and the last vol­ume is still ges­tat­ing. Caro is 83. He took time off to write and cu­rate this col­lec­tion of pieces about how he works. Ev­ery jour­nal­ist knows the agony of go­ing to press with the juici­est morsel still un­ver­i­fied and there­fore omit­ted. In the bad old days read­ers knew when a re­porter was join­ing up the dots. These days you can go to gaol for just a whiff of brag­gado­cio. Caro is ex­treeeeeeem­e. To be cer­tain he’d got LBJ’S early years right, he and the ever-oblig­ing Ina went to live for three years in the mid­dle of nowhere, close

to Stonewall, Texas. It was there that LBJ’S mother and aunts had spent half their wak­ing hours draw­ing wa­ter from the well and hoick­ing it with a yoke and buck­ets to meet the fam­ily’s needs. Weath­ered and shrunken, old be­fore their time, they didn’t know how to talk about them­selves. Ina made fig jam for them, listened, coaxed, en­cour­aged. So when Caro re­veals the means by which LBJ ac­quires the money needed to fur­ther his ca­reer you re­alise just how much he learned in child­hood from bat­tlers in the Texas back­woods. I don’t know how Caro gets away with ex­pos­ing these locked-away se­crets. A rip­per read.

BIG SKY

Kate Atkin­son, Dou­ble­day, $32.99

The jury’s out on Nathan, son of Jack­son Brodie, pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor. I call him a brat. Oth­ers might say that he’s at a dif­fi­cult age and will be just fine in the end. Nathan’s mother, Ju­lia, chooses to live apart from Jack­son. When they’re to­gether she’s a ticker tape of put-downs. In this new en­thralling episode in Jack­son’s zigzag ca­reer, a woman emerges who I feel is right for him and by the time the novel ends her hus­band is dead and un­la­mented. Atkin­son’s gift is to in­volve the reader in the fate of ev­ery one of her char­ac­ters. In a world where we’re all scratch­ing our heads over the dis­tinc­tion be­tween right and wrong she lands us firmly in the judg­ment seat. Do we for­give the clown­ish siren who kills a client’s er­rant hus­band for cash? “Plea­sure do­ing busi­ness with you…” Be­yond the warmth and the wry hu­mour lies the sub­stance of the plot, which con­cerns bring­ing young girls to Bri­tain, chain­ing them to beds, drug­ging them and then loan­ing them out to all sorts of men from spivs to judges. The short­est chap­ter de­scribes a res­cue op­er­a­tion, a young girl in a cel­lar. She was found; but there are 100s more. New to the saga is a boy, Harry, who al­most steals the show from Jack­son. He’s had a hard life and by the last pages both his par­ents are dead; when Jack­son next ap­pears I sense that Harry will be close by.

OP­ER­A­TION BABYLIFT

Ian W. Shaw, Ha­chette Aus­tralia, $32.99

Like the open­ing of a James Bond film, Shaw’s ac­count of how, in March 1975, 600 Viet­namese or­phans were repa­tri­ated plunges im­me­di­ately into drama, leav­ing the reader won­der­ing what’s go­ing on. Who is Ed Daly? Who are these young sol­diers mob­bing the Boe­ing 727? Where are the ba­bies? A fam­ily of five try to board the plane and are shot and tram­pled. The door jams. The stair­case can­not be re­tracted. Five men cling to it. The plane takes off. “The Viet­namese be­gan to lose their grip on the rail­ings and fell off, one by one... they were sev­eral hun­dred me­tres in the air when the last one fell.” A seem­ingly chaotic first chap­ter in­tro­duces us to Saigon in the last few weeks be­fore the Vi­et­cong in­vaded. We meet Rosemary Tay­lor, for­merly a nun in Ade­laide, who for eight years led a ma­jor aid team. The ba­bies, mal­nour­ished and al­most all suf­fer­ing from dysen­tery, were despatched in card­board boxes. This was their only chance. Shaw has pre­cious lit­tle pa­tience with the em­bassy ad­min­is­tra­tors who were slow to recog­nise the ne­ces­sity to pro­vide ev­ery child with papers and a prospec­tive par­ent PDQ. Tay­lor had many crit­ics. The Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Gough Whit­lam and the Amer­i­can Pres­i­dent Ger­ald Ford were, re­spec­tively, re­luc­tant and ham­strung, which added to the frus­tra­tions of the ex­pe­ri­enced Aus­tralian teams on the ground who knew that with each day of de­lay, ba­bies died. There are only two photograph­s but Shaw’s words more than com­pen­sate. It’s a story which will pass into the his­tory curriculum: the power of a small band of ex­cep­tional in­di­vid­u­als who saved the most vul­ner­a­ble from cer­tain death.

THE ELEC­TRIC HO­TEL

Do­minic Smith, Allen & Un­win, $32.99

Footage of a 40-year-old nude emerg­ing from a bub­ble bath and the last mo­ments of his tu­ber­cu­lar sis­ter’s life were among the au­di­tion reels that launched Claude Bal­lard on a film ca­reer. Smith’s new novel con­jures up Paris in 1895, when as a cheeky young­ster, Claude (fic­tional) com­petes to be­come con­ces­sion agent for the Lu­mière broth­ers (real). The lan­guid pair, Louis and Au­guste, will be re­mem­bered along­side Thomas Edi­son in the USA for in­vent­ing mo­tion pic­tures. “Edi­son’s crude peepshow de­vice,” snorts Au­guste. Claude gets the job. He trav­els the world (in­clud­ing Ta­ma­rama in Aus­tralia). He sells shows and li­censed equip­ment. The Elec­tric Ho­tel is his lost masterpiec­e, a hugely am­bi­tious silent film starring Sabine Mon­trose, she of the bub­ble bath. In 1962 a keen stu­dent of film vis­its Claude, now holed up in Hol­ly­wood’s Knicker­bocker Ho­tel (real), hop­ing to lo­cate frag­ments of the lost masterpiec­e (fic­tional) in Claude’s vine­gary store chests. He gets to meet some of the lu­mi­nar­ies of silent film, such as Chip Spald­ing (fic­tional), a para­plegic ex-stunt­man from Aus­tralia. No luck with the frag­ments. All gone. “I haven’t seen a film since 1920,” says Bal­lard. Be­tween these two phases in Bal­lard’s ex­tra­or­di­nary life comes World War I when he films atroc­i­ties in Bel­gium. The reels are used as ev­i­dence in post­war tri­als. Four-hun­dred-and-forty-one pages evoke an era al­to­gether at odds with the present day. We’ve be­come blasé about filmed re­ports: could be real, could be faux, but for those first au­di­ences film was astounding. Was it a trick or unas­sail­able proof, how­ever con­trived? Ac­tion. Some­thing hap­pened along the time line. It could be seen over and over again in a barn or an at­tic, any­where there was a light source and a sus­pended sheet shim­mer­ing be­fore gog­gling spec­ta­tors. Un­der Smith’s spell the won­der re­turns.

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