Book news

  • The Tryst by Monique Roffey review – perfectly judged erotic fiction
    Jane Housham

    Sex and mythology collide in a novel with insights into contemporary coupledom

    Although women are increasingly writing and reading sexually explicit fiction, there are still relatively few erotic masterpieces written by women. It is notable that two of the most accomplished female writers of literary erotica, Story of O author Anne Desclos and Anaïs Nin, wrote their erotica for men – Desclos for her lover, Jean Paulhan, and Nin for a collector who paid a dollar a page. In her novel The Tryst, Monique Roffey is writing for herself, the book forming part of a wider exploration of sex and sexuality which she also covered in a memoir, With the Kisses of His Mouth.

    Erotic literature is vulnerable to a number of stylistic weaknesses. It is, by its very nature, repetitive, while descriptions of sexual ecstasy can become unintentionally comic if they try too hard to convince the reader of the power of sex to transport. Happily, The Tryst is no contender for the Bad Sex award: the sexual descriptions walk the line between transcendent and plain dirty with perfect judgment.

    Lilah makes her move on Bill, throwing his cosy but arid relationship with Jane into turmoil, and yet Jane colludes in the detonation of the Lilah sex-bomb

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  • Growth and Form by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson review – centenary of a Darwin-challenging classic
    Steven Rose

    Honeycombs, snail shells, a tiger’s stripes … The celebrated study of how physical forces and mathematical laws affect natural selection has just been reissued

    Asked to name the most significant book about biology ever written in English, most biologists would opt for Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. How about the second most significant book? After 1917, when it was published, the answer would unhesitatingly have been D’Arcy Thompson’s On Growth and Form. Eclipsed since the 1950s by the domination of DNA, its time may have come round once more. This year’s centenary was celebrated in editorials, a clutch of abridged versions and now a facsimile edition of the original.

    Thompson, born in 1860, was a professor of natural history, first at Dundee and then at St Andrews, for an astonishing 63 years. But he was also a distinguished classicist and a powerful mathematician. The Nobel prize-winning immunologist Peter Medawar, himself no mean stylist, described him as “an aristocrat of learning whose intellectual endowments are not likely ever again to be combined within one man”. On Growth and Form, Medawar believed, is “beyond comparison the finest work of literature in all the annals of science that have been recorded in the English tongue”.

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  • To Die in Spring by Ralf Rothmann review – a brutal coming of age in Nazi Germany
    Rachel Seiffert

    The final weeks of the second world war are hauntingly portrayed in a German novel that bears comparison with Erich Maria Remarque and Günter Grass

    March 1945, and Walter and Friedrich, young apprentices on a north German dairy farm, are drafted into the Waffen SS, serving out the final weeks of wartime in Hungary, in the teeth of the Russian advance and the brutality of the German collapse. The boys are plunged from childhood into the abyss, and this remarkable novel charts a most terrible coming of age.

    To Die in Spring is the first of Ralf Rothmann’s eight novels to be translated into English, by Shaun Whiteside; published in Germany in 2015, it has won him much acclaim across Europe, with a few reviews even suggesting he has inherited the mantle of Günter Grass. This is high praise indeed, but then Rothmann has chosen the very subject that Grass failed to address in his fiction. He too was a teenage conscript, drafted late in the war, but kept this quiet, only revealing it in his late memoir, much to the consternation of his critics and admirers.

    Related: Rachel Seiffert: ‘My grandparents were Nazis. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know this’

    From the start, Friedrich is tempted to desert, while Walter hopes his duties with the supply corps will keep him from the worst

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