First Thoughts

Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait Of The World’s Most Mysterious Continent

Gabrielle Walker

Bloomsbury, €26.40,

Kindle €11.52

Review: Debbie Murray

This is a fascinating insight into one of the most inhospitable places on Earth and its implications for the world’s future. Gabrielle Walker’s account of her time spent on the magnificent, but fragile, Antarctica, which she has visited five times, obviously includes the natural science details on which she is an expert.

But it also includes usually unreported information about the people who live on the continent and what their lives involve.

Focusing on how environmental changes have affected and continue to affect Antarctica, while at the same time recalling her own personal experiences, Walker’s tales enable the reader to relate to what’s happening in the southern polar region.

The informative and touching account of the expanse’s beauty leaves the reader desperate to visit the area, but also desperately sad for its future.

Wired For Culture: The Natural History Of Human Cooperation

Mark Pagel

Allen Lane, €33.00;

ebook €16.99

Review: Debbie Murray

Ever since Darwin, evolution has been the subject of furious debate, between the creationists and scientists, or different factions therein. Mark Pagel, a lecturer at the University of Reading, has his own views, ‘evolved’ over decades of research, that humans haven’t just evolved as a species, but that we are ‘hard-wired’ or programmed for cooperation.

Pointing to our disparate languages, cuisines and traditions, he looks at this process by which individuals are culturalised and asks why this kind of ‘brand loyalty’ exists.

The result is a trawl through many of the world’s more obscure and fascinating cultures, and some interesting implications for our increasingly global society.

As he says: “Nothing in our evolutionary history specifically prepared us to live in large societies.”

The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year

Sue Townsend

Michael Joseph, €25.10,

Kindle £9.99

Review: Emma Everingham

Award-winning author Sue Townsend has given the diaries of Adrian Mole a rest. Her new book focuses on a woman who refuses to leave her bed for a year.

Eva Beaver is a mother, wife and homemaker. She runs around after her astronomer husband, Brian, and their two teenage twins, Brianne and Brian Junior, until she has enough.

The day the twins leave for university, Eva climbs into her bed and stays there. Her family thinks she’s having a breakdown, but Eva is fine — she just wants life to stop. Her bed-bound status opens several cans of worms, including the discovery of her husband’s infidelity.

There is hope for Eva in the shape of Alexander, a van man who becomes her carer. When things come to a head, Eva is shocked by who she has become.

Sadly, fans of Townsend’s novels may not find this work appealing. The characters are difficult to like and the storyline is, at times, farcical.

A bit of a disappointment.

Wildwood

Colin Meloy

Canongate Books€10.99,

Kindle £5.60

Review: Lewis Young

Although marketed directly at teens, indie fans around the world will likely be sucked in on name basis alone by this debut effort from the Decemberists’ frontman.

His inimitable songwriting style has not transferred well to prose, however, with the majority of his 540-plus-page tome loudly echoing CS Lewis, Lemony Snicket and Neil Gaiman.

Set in modern-day Portland, the book begins with a young girl witnessing her one-year-old brother being carried away by crows, and then follows her rescue attempt.

The novel finds its strength in its relentless action, which manages to hold interest throughout.

But, despite the apparent confidence of Colin Meloy’s prose, the Wildwood Chronicles is just finding its feet, at present.

Given the relatively small impact this volume seems set to make, whether the series will continue beyond instalment number one, as promised, remains to be seen.


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