Reading for pleasure
A special "Pick of the Month" this time, along with the usual selection of leisure reading chosen by the Journal's Book Review Editor
Pick of the month
Where Memories Go: Why Dementia Changes Everything
Sally Magnusson (Two Roads: £16.99; e-book £8.99)
Uniquely, this book is required reading for private client practitioners – and to be commended to all other lawyers – not for the law in it, but precisely because there is hardly any.
Law is nothing without the human realities with which it engages. This book is one of those extraordinary volumes which sets out on an apparently modest journey – a daughter’s soliloquy addressed to her much-loved late mother – and develops into an epic, multiple in its themes and examining aspects of the essence of our humanity in a manner comparable to, but different from, a great novel.
The focus is on dementia and its effects upon all touched by it, a reality which all of us in private client practice, and particularly those engaged with adult incapacity, need to understand and engage with. For us it answers two questions. “What is it all about?” is answered with greater clarity than this reviewer has previously seen, in passages interspersed among the other themes of the book. “What is it really like?” is answered with a level of insight likewise unique for those who have not (yet) had similar direct experience, and in a manner likely to evoke empathy and even catharsis for those who have.
The book encompasses a biography of an outstanding writer and raconteur who well deserves one. It contains humour, and a clarity and facility of language which is a pleasure to read, especially for those of us in any profession where our business is the use of words. A minority of readers may not always be comfortable with a first person to second person style of writing, and there might be some debate whether some of the “softer” passages of detailed description are rather too long, or whether alternatively they skilfully heighten the impact of sudden transitions to descriptions of the shockingly unacceptable.
There is much that is shocking and unacceptable in the present-day realities which this book describes: the dehumanising cruelties inflicted upon sufferers, no less unacceptable when they are unthinking rather than deliberate, or the result of seriously deficient care delivered at the same cost as examples of good and appropriate practice. Challenges of which we have all been to some degree aware have now been articulated in a way which society can no longer ignore. This book may well prove to be a turning-point. The only legal mechanism or procedure mentioned is a single short reference to a power of attorney, but the challenge for lawyers is as clear as for others. Two passages raise human rights issues, one of them in the poignantly beautiful closing chapters.
For this reviewer, the challenge resonates with his advocacy of a “reversed jurisprudence”, in which future laws will be constructed placing such vulnerable people at the centre, with all necessary support and protections built in – which can be dispensed with for those not needing them – rather than expressing laws in terms of the fully capable adult and then seeking peripherally to include the most vulnerable, when they are not forgotten altogether.
Alzheimer Scotland is hosting a Scotland-wide panel of experts on 24 February, sponsored by T C Young, for an open debate and panel discussion to further explore the areas and challenges raised in the book. Sally Magnusson will chair the discussion and encourage questions from the audience for what promises to be a thought-provoking event. Adrian D Ward, T C Young Turnbull & Ward
Reading for pleasure
Solo – A James Bond Novel
William Boyd (Jonathan Cape: £18.99; e-book £6.64)
A number of eminent authors have taken on the – unenviable? – task of writing a sequel to a novel authored by an equally eminent, deceased author. This practice has met with mixed views. It's not a new notion. John Gardiner and Sebastian Faulks precede Boyd in the Bond genre. Even for Bond fans, all that should really be important is whether the story is good; whether it involves Bond in the situations we so enjoy.
The answer here is a resounding yes. This is a cracking novel, a well thought-out story with nice twists and turns. Bond is dispatched to end a civil war in Zanzarim, where the tribal leaders have sought to establish Dahum as an independent state. The elusive leader appears close to death and bigger forces are at work funding the minority government. Why? What's the benefit? No one is as they initially appear, as Bond learns to his near fatal experience. However, he goes "solo" – off piste without MI6 authorisation – to reek revenge. Boyd has captured the true essence of Bond; he describes the settings in 1969 deftly. Brilliant escapism.
Don’t tell the Groom
Anna Bell (Quercus: £7.99; e-book £0.56)
A rom-com based around a few games of bingo does not at first glance hold much potential for entertainment. But turn those few games into an online gambling habit, add in some hefty financial stakes, and there is a contemporary tale to tell.
Penny has one aim in life: to marry her boyfriend, Mark. She lives for the whole wedding fantasy. At the outset, she has few redeeming features and little to capture the reader’s empathy (I nearly gave up after the first chapter). But once her jaw-dropping stupidity is revealed, Penny tries to make amends, and without the gullibility and feckless behaviour she becomes much more appealing as a heroine. By the end of the tale I found myself hoping she would get the happy ending she deserved.
The story is neatly wrapped up, a little too neatly in the case of the beguiling Josh, but all in all it’s an entertaining chunk of chick-lit.
Acts of Union and Disunion
Linda Colley (Profile: £8.99; e-book £2.99)
This book is an expanded version of the lectures given by Professor Colley on Radio Four. It is a clear, authoritative and incisive analysis of the factors which make the diverse parts of the United Kingdom what it is today. In doing so, the author analyses the makeup of each part of the United Kingdom and what brought them together, and how they have, as part of the greater Union, been able to maintain their diverse nature and identity. This is done through the prism of the monarchy, the fact the UK is an island, the relationship to the sea and, of course, the relationship with Europe.
Readers will learn some interesting facts, new to at least some of us. The question of greater Scottish autonomy is not a new issue. Who knew about the National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights, founded in 1853 "to agitate for increased Scottish representation at Westminster, and for limits on the intrusive power of London" – yet an organisation which "made a point... of toasting the British monarchy at its meetings". This is a thoughtful and reflective book which will provoke some serious thought.