Book reviews

This week's top reads reviewed, from Paulo Coelhoto Simon Werle's Fashionista

Time In

Simone Werle
Does the world actually need another book on ‘style icons’ – those over familiar, if perfectly proportioned, faces attached to the kind of outfits most of us could never afford even in the unlikely event we could fit into them?

Well no, but if we all limited ourselves to the needful then Chanel would go instantly out of business, along with its rivals. And while there are many usual suspects here – Jackie Kennedy in pillbox hat, Audrey Hepburn in black, Marlene Dietrich in drag and Josephine Baker in rhinestones, feathers and nothing else – there are also less famous fashionistas, such as ’20s tennis champion Suzanne Lenglen, who wore Patou silk on court (and above the ankle) and swigged from a brandy flask while changing ends yet won 31 grand slam titles. And the accompanying text, while less than felicitously written (and occasionally just wrong: Carrie Bradshaw’s shoes weren’t all Manolos), is scattered with gossip nuggets which emphasise how little changes in the supposedly restless world of fashion.

Hints are always better than statements, especially if what they hint at is sexual: so Monroe instructed the seamstresses sewing her into outfits to follow the line of each (underwear-free) buttock individually; Bianca Jagger found notoriety for peeking out of her YSL jacket at her wedding to Mick; and Dita von Teese has made an entire career out of taking off less than anticipated. Vivienne Westwood, never an icon to stay quiet, puts it most simply: ‘fashion is about sex’. Even better, as all fashionistas know, it cuts out the middle: man.
Nina Caplan
Prestel Dhs130 Available to order from Magrudy’s Book of the week

Children Of The Sun: Growing Up In The Gulf

Piyu Majumdar and Paul Thuysbaert
It’s definitely not Keats or Blake, but the juvenile touch of the 32 poems in this collection echo the theme of a childhood in the UAE (despite the title claiming to encompass the Gulf region as a whole). A combination of poetry and photography, the book brings together one teacher, one photographer and 60 strangers who attempt to illustrate what they think it is truly like growing up in Dubai.

While the images encompass a range of iconic symbols of the city – from camel rides, cultural and religious events, to the Dubai International Airport and the Nad Al Sheba horse races – they present the typically privileged experiences of children born to so-called Jumeirah Janes, the city’s ultra elite. It is they who attend horse races and tea parties, ballet classes and piano lessons, swimming and skating – not necessarily the average Dubai child.

A touch upon the crooked streets of Satwa, the long-standing Gold Souk, laundry stores and barber shops tries to level the tone, but the overriding focus on a certain aspect of Dubai society is disappointing. Thankfully, the cosmopolitan nature of the city has filtered through, as the 60 families who joined the endeavour as models hail from almost every nationality the city is home to. Maybe not a true representation of a Dubai childhood, but certainly a good coffee table book. Nargis Fatima Hasan
Jerboa Books Dhs149 Available to order from Magrudy’s

The Letters Of Samuel Beckett

Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More Overbeck (eds)
Samuel Beckett’s reputation for silence stems partly from his natural rigour and partly from his reluctance to discuss his work with the swarms of critics and academics who plagued him after his 1969 Nobel Prize for Literature, an award his wife Suzanne described as ‘a catastrophe’. Fame for Beckett was toxic: a real distraction from the work.

Still, his enormous correspondence (this is the first of four volumes, and that will still be merely a selection) rather challenges the myth of his reticence. He answered almost every letter he received, while claiming not to find that easy, either – although given his dry sense of humour (much in evidence here), perhaps that claim was a small Beckettian joke.

This volume starts in 1929, when he was an exchange lecturer in Paris publishing his first story, and stops as the Germans march into Paris in June 1940. He and Suzanne fled south; a stint with the Resistance followed but this, like Waiting For Godot and that troublesome Nobel, belongs to subsequent volumes.

We are lucky to get these letters, whose recipients range from Peggy Guggenheim to Sergei Eisenstein, at all: ‘Quite frankly,’ Beckett once wrote to his director and friend Alan Schneider, ‘I do not want any of my letters to anyone to be published anywhere, either in the petit pendant or the long après.’ And Beckett’s estate has made sure that anything not relating to the work – i.e., any juicy details – is firmly excised.

But there is still much worth poring over. The first letter here is to Beckett’s fellow Irishman-in-exile James Joyce, shortly after they met. Joyce was a mentor, and these letters offer anxiety indeed over his influence; he dismisses an early story by writing that ‘it stinks of Joyce, despite my most earnest endeavours’. But of course, Beckett’s writing, even when informal, stinks of nothing but Beckett. And, even when he is irascible – as long as he is talking, in fact – the stink is sweet.
Nicholas Foxton
Cambridge University Press Dh195 Available to order from Magrudy’s

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