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  • Tuesday Top Ten -- Prue Leith

    Tue, 05 May 2009 03:39

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    As a cook, restaurateur, food writer and business woman, Prue Leith she has played a key role in the revolution of Britain's eating habits since the Sixties. In 1995, having published twelve cookbooks, she gave up writing about food to concentrate on fiction. Choral Society is her fourth novel. She lives in London and Oxfordshire. Visit Prue's website at prue-leith.com.

    Here is Prue's Tuesday Top Ten:

    The Lotus Eaters by Marianne MacDonald

    A modern novel of thirty-something Londoners into whose midst arrives Patty Bell: beautiful, innocent, unprincipled, and devastating -- a kind of tragic Marilyn Monroe figure who is both victim and manipulator.

    Daddy's Gone a Hunting by Penelope Mortimer

    I loved this book fifty years ago, and it has not lost its power. A wonderful portrait of a middleclass housewife gradually driven to depression by nothing to do, a boorish husband and a difficult daughter. The Prospect Books edition is elegant with great end-papers. Makes a cool present.

    How to be a Failure and Succeed by Sir Ernest Hall

    Bolton boy's tale of rags to riches (through timid boy, concert pianist, to wealthy entrepreneur) is neither business book, autobiography or novel, but its a very good read. Hall writes of the stifling cultural poverty of working class hardship, of his own desperate ambition, of the fascination of the weaving trade and of his love of music, art, beautiful houses, with compelling simplicity and truth.

    The Warden by Anthony Trollope

    The first of the Barchester series of novels with the cathedral as backdrop. It is my favourite, and the gentlest of the great Victorian's novels with his most lovable character, the innocent warden of an almshouse for old men, who finds himself trapped between his conscience and his comfort. It also contains the most perfectly drawn Mr Nasty: the self-important, snobbish, opinionated and perfectly intolerable Arch-Deacon Grantly, father-in-law to the unfortunate warden.

    The Weight of a Mustard Seed by Wendell Steavenson

    Who would have thought that a biography of one of Sadam Hussein's generals could be poetic, moving and quite extraordinary. Steavenson is a real storyteller and she writes like a dream. I learnt more of Iraq and the Iraqis in this one book about one family than any amount of newsprint and pontificating on the box. The blurb say the book sears the heart and pierces the soul. It does.

    Donne: The Reformed Soul by John Stubbs

    This is a masterful portrait of an extraordinary man. Born a Catholic, John Donne saw Protestantism overtake England; he broke with his roots to fight against the Spanish; he sacrificed his standing and his fortune to marry for love; and he ended up Dean of St Paul's. Stubbs seamlessly integrates Donne's poetry into his story to illuminate the journey from scholar to rebel to devout and passionate cleric. And leaves you wanting to go back to Donne, the poet.

    The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

    I have not seen the movie but I can see why the novel would make a great one. Set in both the war and modern Germany it is the tale of a love affair between an illiterate older woman and a studious middleclass boy. It is a disturbing, erotic and yet somehow wholesome tale. Ruth Rendell describes if as "Deeply moving, sensitive enough to make me wince, a Holocaust novel, but light years away from the common run."

    Falling by Elizabeth Jane Howard

    Written in her seventies I believe Falling is EJH's best novel. It is the story of a woman in her sixties falling disastrously and dangerously in love. It is exciting, touching and unputdownable. Howard handles the unpromising subject of geriatric love, disillusion and despair with sympathy and unsentimental truth, making it an unforgettable book.

    The Old Wives Tale by Arnold Bennett

    Having myself written, I thought, a not bad novel, Sisters, about one sensible and one flighty sibling and their relationship, I then read Arnold Bennett's 1903 The Old Wives Tale and realised what depths and heights such a master can reveal of such a subject. As relevant today as 100 years ago.

    George Mackay Brown: The Life by Maggie Fergusson

    This is the author's first book and an absolute cracker. I had not heard of the Orkney poet but picked up this biography as background reading for an Orkney holiday. Now I am hooked on Orkney, on Mackay Brown's magical poetry, and on his biographer.

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