Cover to Cover

Du Maurier gets her due; Julia Glass's latest; the ruins of the railroads; SCottishness debunked; and more

Justine Picardie

The Daphne du Maurier Companion
Helen Taylor, editor
Virago/Trafalgar Square

Don’t Look Now: Stories
Daphne du Maurier
New York Review Books

A century after her birth, Daphne du Maurier, who achieved enormous commercial success but no place in the literary canon, is finally getting some critical respect. Feminism can take some of the credit, and there can be little question now that du Maurier was an innovative and strikingly original literary artist. Her distinctive character comes to life in Picardie’s fictional portrait, which is a complex novelistic homage to du Maurier and her most famous book, Rebecca. Virago’s Companion contains essays (two of them by Picardie) on her work, as well as biographical material, and is a searching examination of her life and art. Don’t Look Now is a stunning collection of du Maurier’s particular brand of intricately plotted story. The mesmerizing title story was faithfully adapted by Nicholas Roeg, and the volume also includes the creepily riveting tale “The Birds,” which, like Rebecca, was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock. These three books penetrate to the heart of this troubled genius and her multifaceted oeuvre.

Acedia & Me
Kathleen Norris

Norris, a religiously inclined poet and essayist, compounds her interests here, offering a moving memoir and an etymological explication of acedia, a state of spiritual torpor identified by early Christian monastics and known variously as “soul-weariness,” “the noonday demon,” even plain “ennui.” Drawing on her hard-won experiences, she demarcates such neurasthenia from depression, its modern, medically treatable relative; weighs its deleterious effects on a grand cultural scale; and argues, sometimes persuasively, that a rarely diagnosed, centuries-old condition plagues us still.

The Oxford Project
Photographs by Peter Feldstein, text by Stephen G. Bloom
Welcome Books

In May 1984, Feldstein set up a sign outside a main-street shop in Oxford, Iowa, his hometown. On it he wrote get your photo taken. By the end of the summer, he’d taken a single black-and-white shot of nearly all of Oxford’s 676 residents. Twenty years later, he resurrected the project, but this time the writer Stephen G. Bloom interviewed each resident, with revelatory results. The product is a hard-to-put-down coffee-table book, with big, striking then-and-now portraits, that pulls you deep into small-town America, with its almost excessive heartbreaks and intermittent joys. The danger of such a project is that it can make caricatures out of real people—but this book stays true to its life-worn subjects and to the complexities of what would seem to be the most simple of places.

I See You Everywhere
Julia Glass

Glass’s third book—a novel in spirit if not in structure—plumbs the relationship between two sisters with equally strong wills, if somewhat antithetical personalities. As in all of Glass’s work, much of the delight in these interlaced stories, in which the sisters alternate point of view, comes from the precision and vibrancy with which she presents her fully realized and jam-packed fictional world. Like bumper cars, the sisters touch and careen apart, supplying each other with sympathy and yet fiercely insisting on their differences and independence. Glass dives deeply into this complex relationship, made even more complicated by the shocking ending. That she offers no easy explanations is to her credit.

The Ancient Shore: Dispatches From Naples
Shirley Hazzard

This book collects Shirley Hazzard’s and Francis Steegmuller’s love letters to Naples from a singular time (the postwar decades) and place (a city of surpassing beauty, danger, and cultural complexity). As the professionally expatriate Hazzard notes, “One does not go [to Italy] for simplicity but for interest: to make the adventure of existence more vivid, more poignant.” It’s a fair assessment, as is her pithy summation of life there as “a performance—an idea of the self played out with style.” Both notions are manifested repeatedly—and limned gorgeously—by her painterly prose, her late husband’s stylish reportage, and a somewhat unexpected (but thoroughly apt) complement: glowing photographs of Naples by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Herbert List, and others.

Westward the Course of Empire
Mark Ruwedel

A veteran photographer of the American West, Ruwedel here takes as his abstruse but evocative subject the additions to the landscape made by the great expanding U.S. and Canadian railroads of the 19th and 20th centuries. The cuts and grades, tunnels and trestles that mark the terrain in these starkly beautiful photographs seem like the North American equivalent of ruined Greek temples and Roman viaducts. For ruins many now are, testament to a burst of once-triumphant engineering swept aside by highways. Yet they seem oddly natural, such is the topography’s power to subsume human attempts to scratch away at something so grand and forbidding.

American Son: My Story
Oscar De La Hoya

The boxer takes us from the ring to his mother’s bedside as she dies of cancer, from his sense of ethnic identity to relationships with business associates, lovers, parents, wife, and children. Truly the golden boy both in and out of the ring, he has successfully invested in media, entertainment, and resorts, becoming an entrepreneurial powerhouse of commerce and charitable giving. Although De La Hoya is honest about his lapses in judgment along the way, his story is mostly about the judicious choices he has made at every stage of his life, shaping his phenomenal trajectory.

Gerard Manley Hopkins
Paul Mariani

Few English poets can match Gerard Manley Hopkins for passionate expression of feeling and for inventiveness of form and language. Even fewer have his gift for distilling intense joy and religious feelings into luminous verse. A convert to Roman Catholicism, Hopkins eventually became a Jesuit priest. In Mariani, a poet and accomplished biographer of poets, the Victorian master has found his ideal biographer. The author’s profoundly empathetic understanding of his subject’s life and work—and of the milieus, secular and cloistered, in which he struggled to flourish—is apparent on every page of this exemplary work.

The Invention of Scotland
Hugh Trevor-Roper

Irritated by the rise of Scottish nationalism in the 1970s, Trevor-Roper turned his considerable forensic skills to deconstructing what he saw as the endlessly shifting and self-perpetuating myths underpinning this resurgence. The result of more than a decade of thought and research, this book, written with his customary brio, demolishes what to him was a mendacious, pointless, and destructive enterprise. Trevor-Roper serves up devastating tidbits to buttress his arguments: the tartan, far from being an ancient Highland institution, became popular after the union with England and was essentially a reactionary manifestation. But the real pleasure of this posthumous effusion is the sheer joy the author evinces in showing off generous measures of tendentiousness and his undoubted historiographical bona fides.