In brief: The Book of the Most Precious Substance; Antarctica: A History in 100 Objects; These Precious Days – review

An absorbing occult thriller from Sara Gran; fascinating snapshots of South Pole exploration; and searching essays from Ann Patchett

The Book of the Most Precious Substance

Sara Gran
Faber, £16.99, pp336

Lily Albrecht is a former novelist turned rare book dealer. When a colleague asks for her help in finding an elusive 17th-century sex manual for a customer who is prepared to pay handsomely for it, Lily finds herself drawn into a world of competing desires, not least her own. Gran combines intrigue, magic and antiquarian bookselling in a deeply atmospheric novel.

Antarctica: A History in 100 Objects

Jean de Pomereu and Daniella McCahey
Conway, £25, pp224

De Pomereu and McCahey’s handsomely illustrated work examines the history of Antarctic expedition through famous and lesser-known objects. From crevasse detectors to prevent explorers disappearing through the ice to the whale skeleton assembled by conservationist Jacques Cousteau that helped the campaign to end whaling, via shipwrecks, sledges, telescopes and fossils, it’s filled with fascinating snapshots.

These Precious Days

Ann Patchett
Bloomsbury, £9.99, pp336 (paperback)

In a series of eclectic and wide-ranging essays, the acclaimed American novelist brings her incisive perspective to bear on friendship, family, literary careers and writing. In arguably the standout piece, There Are No Children Here, Patchett quietly rails against the preconceived ideas people place on women. Although there are occasional tonal missteps, there is nonetheless much to admire and sufficient gems in which we can marvel at Patchett’s economical prose and astute observations about the complexities of human relationships.


Hannah Beckerman

The GuardianTramp

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