Daily Telegraph

Nicholas Bagnall and Katie Owen review new paperbacks

More paperback reviews God's Architect by Rosemary Hill

Here is a fully researched and highly readable life of the Roman
Catholic architect responsible for Big Ben and three cathedrals as
well as for a host of Gothic Revival churches, though he died in 1852
at only 40. It was his dissolute life (probably giving him syphilis)
that killed him so early; yet he had put more into those years than
most people achieve in a normal life-span.

This fine biography, well illustrated, does an extraordinary man full
justice, not forgetting the sordid side of his character as well as
his genius. NB

Pistols at Dawn by Richard Hopton

Duelling was always illegal, but honour mattered more than the law,
we read in this intriguing history. Afterwards, friendship could
be resumed. The duellists often seem to have been very bad shots,
and I wonder why more did not get killed, accidentally or deliberately.

In the famous duel in 1809 between Canning and Castlereagh, recounted
here, Canning (who didn't even know how to cock a pistol) merely got
shot in the thigh, and honour was served; the feeling remains that
contestants often missed on purpose. NB

Mrs Woolf and the Servants by Alison Light

Like all her class, and despite her advanced views, Virginia always
had servants, and Alison Light is good on her relationships with them.

This charming book is as much about Bloomsbury as about the people who
kept the Woolfs' life smooth. Some members of this spoilt professional
class couldn't boil an egg.

Light offers admirably detailed accounts of the servants, especially
of Nellie the cook, towards whom Virginia veered between exasperation
and genuine fondness, and Sophie Farrell, the Stephens's cook. NB

One to Nine by Andrew Hodges

Andrew Hodges, a sprightly and elegant writer, starts this book about
mathematics with an easily intelligible and beguiling reference
to Jane Austen, calls Orwell a grumpy old man, and tends to begin
chapters with a quickly digestible witticism.

The one on Six, for example, starts: 'For Latin lovers, Six is sex,
and in soixante-neuf, even the numeral is erotic', and so on.

But this book is not for the innumerate: we are soon deep into
questions such as: 'Why is 12 x 12 =144 true in octal notation?' and
the number of possible positions in a Rubik's cube. NB

Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows by J K Rowling

School is well and truly out in the seventh and final instalment of
J. K. Rowling's series.

Harry, now 17, and his friends have left Hogwarts to embark on
a frightening expedition in search of 'horcruxes' (fragments of
his arch-enemy Voldemort's soul), while being hunted down by Death
Eaters. Rowling proves as skilful a storyteller as ever as she keeps
readers (adults as well as children) on tenterhooks as to whether
Harry will survive the ultimate show-down, and neatly draws together
all the strands of this phenomenally successful saga.


Skylark Farm by Antonia Arslan

A cry of anguish as well as a loving tribute to her ancestors, this
'novel' is Antonia Arslan's dramatic account of the decimation of
her family in the 1915 Armenian massacre in Anatolia. Her narrative
(well translated by Geoffrey Brock) is both intimate and epic in tone,
as an idyllic yet tense prologue leads inexorably to the graphically
described killings of the male family members at their farm.

These horrors are mitigated by the bravery of the female survivors
in their exodus to Aleppo in Syria. It is a powerfully emotive read.