All Things Con­soled: A Daugh­ter’s Mem­oir

By El­iz­a­beth Hay

MacLe­hose Press, £16.99

This is a mov­ing, poignant, hon­est and beau­ti­fully writ­ten mem­oir of her par­ents’ de­clin­ing years by the Cana­dian nov­el­ist El­iz­a­beth Hay. She brings vividly to life her artist mother Jean, whose abid­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic was her ex­tra­or­di­nary fru­gal­ity, and her school­teacher fa­ther Gor­don, a strict disciplina­rian with a vi­o­lent tem­per. Al­though there are many flash­backs, most of the book fo­cuses on their last few years and does not flinch from the in­dig­ni­ties of old age. Hay faces their all-too- hu­man short­com­ings and fail­ings as par­ents and hers as their daugh­ter. She emerges with a nu­anced, deeper un­der­stand­ing of her­self and them, find­ing a de­light­ful hu­mour in much of what they said and did, even in de­cline.

Square Haunt­ing Francesca Wade Faber & Faber, £20

Artists strug­gle, wher­ever the start­ing point. The fo­cus here is on be­ing a mid-20th cen­tury fe­male artist. Francesca Wade’s en­joy­able book on five re­mark­able char­ac­ters, and one square in Lon­don that linked them, is ad­mirably re­searched, doc­u­ment­ing the lives of HD (poet), Dorothy L Say­ers (crime writer), Jane Ellen Har­ri­son (clas­si­cist), Eileen Power (his­to­rian) and – the only fig­ure I knew – Vir­ginia Woolf. Wade’s flow­ing style keeps the pages turn­ing; the sub­ject is cat­nip for lovers of lit­er­ary bi­og­ra­phy. Belly laughs are here, too, with some fig­ures par­o­dic ideas of the Blooms­bury set: “Liv­ing in Chelsea on a diet of baked beans and cheese, he was work­ing on an or­ches­tral score and a study of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Ni­et­zsche and Wag­ner.”

Re­sist: Sto­ries of Up­ris­ing Edited by Ra Page Comma Press, £14.99

What a clever idea for a book. Pick 20 in­stances of re­sis­tance in Bri­tish history, get a cre­ative writer to pro­duce a story about each, and then have a scholar or ac­tivist give a non-fic­tion take on the same event. It works ad­mirably. The events range from the Celtic leader Boudica’s up­ris­ing to the Gren­fell Tower tragedy. (Cu­ri­ously, there’s noth­ing from the Mid­dle Ages – was it par­tic­u­larly qui­es­cent?) It seems in­vid­i­ous to pick out in­di­vid­ual pieces among many that are so good, but Lucy Cald­well’s in­sight into the Vic­to­rian Caro­line Nor­ton’s life is par­tic­u­larly strik­ing. Nor­ton’s vi­o­lent hus­band de­prived her of ac­cess to their chil­dren and her pro­longed cam­paign of pam­phlets, nov­els, news­pa­per ar­ti­cles and letters led to much bet­ter – though still not equal – rights for women.

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