March 25, 2013 § Leave a Comment
SHE LEFT ME THE GUN: My Mother’s Life Before Me by Emma Brockes (Faber, 342pp; £16.99)
The gun was a little pearl-handled number, smuggled in a trunk from South Africa by Emma Brockes’s mother Paula when she emigrated to England in 1960 and who kept it until she handed it in to the police in 1990 during a gun amnesty. Emma Brockes is “not, on the whole, sentimental about the gun” as a lost heirloom. Nor is she, on the whole, sentimental about her mother who prided herself on being a strong, capable woman and who said to Emma, then aged ten, “One day I will tell you the story of my life and you will be amazed.” She died without disclosing the details, so it was up to Emma, a journalist, to investigate the back story of Paula’s extended family in South Africa. The discovery of dark, violent crimes was grim enough, but in the wry, jaunty tone of this miscreant memoir there is positive resolution of past secrets and recovery of present relationships.
A SLOW PASSION: Snails, My Garden and Me by Ruth Brooks (Bloomsbury, 248pp; £12.99)
Snails have been first a bane and finally a boon to Ruth Brooks. In 2010, she was awarded the title ‘BBC Amateur Scientist of the Year’ for her work on the homing instinct of snails, a subject that briefly galvanised the nation’s interest in gastropods and redeemed her local reputation in Totnes, Devon, as “that mad snail lady.” Her interest in the domestic habits of snails has been lifelong and intense, sometimes excited, mostly exasperated. “Gardening is the national pastime. Snails are the national pest.” Her story of how she moved in late middle age from total warfare against snails as destructive blights on horticulture to tolerating them as creatures of extreme scientific interest is warm-hearted, witty and admirably rigorous in terms of home-made experiments and personal research. Once in a while, a book innocently intrigues the head and endearingly beguiles the heart. This is one of them.