Subscriber OnlyBooksReview

Books in brief: When Things Come To Light; The God Desire; Quartet

Short reviews of new books by Liz McManus, David Baddiel and Leah Broad

When Things Come To Light by Liz McManus (Arlen House, €15)

“Aye, I am a good Protestant,” Margaret says, “and I am a true republican”. Margaret and Wallace are Unitarians who believe people should be guided by individual conscience. “Two bony northern folk”, they leave an Ireland on the cusp of independence for India, where Wallace is an agent for the Assam company. Margaret is spirited, with a ferocious temper; Wallace is plagued by dissatisfaction: in their own lives both long to be free. It’s an immersive, imaginative story where each faces conflict, betrayal, grief – not unlike what is happening at home; the Ireland they visit in 1922 shows division and othering, raising questions about authority and intolerance, at odds with their Unitarian philosophy. The novel springs from family research, and perhaps it’s this genesis in genealogy that gives the characters life, down to the quick. Ruth McKee

The God Desire by David Baddiel (TLS Books, £9.99)

“Death is shit,” writes Baddiel on being a reluctant atheist, in this follow-up to his acclaimed Jews Don’t Count. Staring into the void, he fumbles for an answer on one of life’s eternal conflicts. What does he find? Ninety-four woolly, rambling pages, priced at a tenner, making you wonder about this book’s afterlife, too. Death. Baddiel doesn’t want to go there (who does?). But it might help if he turned to, say, Woody Allen’s gags rather than invoking the “philosophy” of Russell Brand. Death is a full stop, said Flann O’Brien, so Baddiel understands the comfort of religion, the promises of an afterlife. He calls atheism “macho”, praises parts of Christianity, and by the end is writing “I’d like God to exist”. Maybe it’s time to reclassify his (non) belief. NJ McGarrigle


Quartet: How Four Women Changed the Musical World by Leah Broad (Faber & Faber, £25)

Inappropriately titled perhaps, Quartet is as much social history as it is an insight into the musical careers of four formidable female voices. Composers and musicians, Ethel Smyth, Rebecca Clarke, Dorothy Howell and Doreen Carwithen are the subjects of this layered chronological biography, spanning the years 1858-2003. Told with verve and charming irreverence, Quartet provides an insight in the obstacles posed by gender discrimination in a patriarchal society and the impact that two world wars and the suffragette movement had upon their work. The personal lives of the four women are as much subject to discussion in the book as is their music. Whilst this may not sit well with everyone, including the musicians themselves, this reader loved Quartet for its compelling racy detail. Brigid O’Dea