In brief: The Mountbattens; This Is Happiness; Churchill – reviews

A revelatory aristocratic life by Andrew Lownie, a magical novel from Niall Williams and an incisive political biography by Andrew Roberts

The Mountbattens

Andrew Lownie
Blink, £20, pp496

If “a revealing new royal biography” might seem dry, this intelligent and painstakingly researched dual account of Louis and Edwina Mountbatten confounds its billing by being genuinely enthralling. Its revelations about Mountbatten’s bisexuality – confined to a later chapter entitled “Rumours” – have already attracted attention, but Andrew Lownie is less interested in prurient detail (despite the revelation the prolific Mountbatten was known as “Mountbottom”) than he is in unravelling this most English of marriages. Both of them died prematurely, she of ill health, he, notoriously, by assassination, but during their lives, they exuded compassion and decency as well as self-absorption and arrogance. This fine book is a fitting tribute to two complex people.

This Is Happiness

Niall Williams
Bloomsbury, £16.99, pp400

Admirers of Niall Williams’s Booker-longlisted History of the Rain will not be disappointed to learn that his latest novel is as good, and possibly even better. It’s set in the remote Irish village of Faha, essentially unchanged in a thousand years, in which the advent of electricity and love have the simultaneous ability to upend expectations and beliefs. What makes this so compelling and enjoyable is Williams’s transparent love of his characters and delight in his setting, a place far removed from any Oirish stereotype. Instead, he depicts somewhere that magic – man-made or otherwise – can quietly transform even the most apparently unchanging of existences.

Churchill

Andrew Roberts
Penguin, £14.99, pp1152

At a time when every fraud and charlatan is taking refuge in spurious fantasies of Churchilliana, it is salutary to read this brilliant, bracing mega-biography of Winston Churchill and be reminded what Britain’s most famous prime minister was actually like. It is no whitewash – Andrew Roberts is incisive about Churchill’s arrogance, failures in judgment and casually xenophobic assumption of British superiority to all other nations and races – and over its great but never boring length, manages to dispense with every cigar-waving, V-sign-bestowing cliche of its protagonist. Instead, Roberts convincingly depicts Churchill as that rarest of things: a man of conviction who, at his country’s greatest moment of danger, rose admirably to an unparalleled challenge.

To order The Mountbattens, This Is Happiness or Churchill go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99

Contributor

Alexander Larman

The GuardianTramp

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