Virago Modern Classics

With prose as clear as gin that flows like warm honey, this beautiful memoir kept me gripped throughout.  Set in colonial East Africa, from 1906 onwards, Beryl Markham tells her amazing life story in short evocative episodes, each with the balance of a satisfying short story.

Despite the problems of books written about the white colonial African experience, with its references to natives and big game hunting, Markham tells her story with great empathy and connection to the people and landscape of Kenya. As Martha Gellhorn says of this and of  Karen Blixen’s book Out of Africa they are love letters to Africa.

She became the first licenced female racehorse trainer in Africa, a huge feat in a totally male dominated world. The first part of the book is partly taken up with her life with horses, fascinating in itself.  She later learned to fly and swapped the saddle for the cockpit. Not only did she learn to fly, she was brilliant at that too, and in 1936 she was the first woman to fly from England to America, east to west against the prevailing winds and during the night.

All of this is told with great modesty and insight. She will have you on the edge of your seat and make you laugh at the most unexpected times.

West with the Night was first published  in 1942 and in the 1984 Virago edition, Martha Gellhorn writes a brilliant introduction, although I never read an introduction until I’ve read the actual book first as it can take from the impact of the original text.

West with the Night is a very entertaining and inspiring book.

Aideen McConville

Rural Ireland is the setting for several novels just out in paperback: Graham Norton’s Holding is a darkly comic tale of murder, lost love and unearthed secrets in the little town of Duneen. (Hodder).  Not far away in the land of fiction is Mulderrig, the setting for Jess Kidd’s beautifully written debut Himself.  Mahoney, one of the most lovable of recent heroes, comes home to find out what happened to his Ma, and meets with an entertaining array of characters, many of them dead but still hanging about.

Also graced with lovable and wonderfully drawn central characters is Alison Jameson’s This Family of Things.  Set in the farming community of Tullyvin, it is an intense and beautiful love story ranging from rural Ireland to Portland, Oregon.   Midge Connors and Bird Keegan are a couple you won’t forget.

For sheer page turners try Noah Hawley’s Before the Fall (Publisher).  A helicopter full of rich people (apart from a penniless artist who is only there by chance) crashes on a short flight back to Manhattan from Martha’s Vineyard. There are two survivors.  But was it an accident?  A single survivor from another plane crash, this time in the Jura mountains, lies at the heart of Michel Bussi’s fiendishly clever plot in After the Crash (Weidenfeld & Nicolson €11.25).  A massive best seller in France it introduces the wonderfully named private detective Crédule Grand Duc, clearly himself a crime writer in the making, so cleverly turned is his account of his eighteen year quest to establish whose grandchild is the sole survivor, a five month old baby.

Camilla Dinkel