Downing Street has been in the news rather a lot this week, so it seems rather timely to have been reading Number 10: The Geography of Power at Downing Street by Jack Brown recently. Brown was the first ever Researcher in Residence at No. 10 and his book examines how the role of the Prime Minister and the architecture of one of the most famous addresses in the world have influenced each other. Originally built in the 1680s, significant reconstruction was undertaken in the early 1960s and much of the book focuses on how the prime ministers of the second half of the 20th century lived and worked there. Security reasons presumably prevent clear diagrams of the interior of Downing Street being included to accompany the text which is slightly unfortunate. However, Brown’s analysis of how the iconic residence projects soft power to its visitors and its strengths and weaknesses as a modern office and living space offers a convincing argument that successive prime ministers have impacted the building as much as the building has shaped their way of working.
Spider Woman by Lady Hale is the memoir of the former President of the Supreme Court and one of the most senior judges in England. The title of the book comes from the £12 brooch she wore when reading out the Supreme Court’s ruling that the prorogation of Parliament in September 2019 was unlawful, coming to wider public attention only at the very end of a long and distinguished career. Following her childhood in North Yorkshire, Hale graduated from Girton College, Cambridge in 1966, and did a stint at the Bar followed by two decades in academia at Manchester. She was appointed to the Law Commission in 1984, became a judge in the family division of the high court in 1994, appointed to the court of appeal in 1999, became a law lord in 2004, then the deputy president of the supreme court in 2013 and finally its president in 2017. This is a memoir very much about Hale’s remarkable trailblazing career path. It is light on details about her personal life – her divorce from her first husband is dealt with in a single sentence – but it is clear from the way she outlines the fascinating cases she has been involved with that she has a brilliant legal brain and the clarity of her prose prevents those passages from becoming too dry. I expect ‘Spider Woman’ will be appreciated the most by prospective law students, but there is inspiration for everyone here too. Many thanks to Vintage Books for sending me a copy via NetGalley.
Magpie by Elizabeth Day is a psychological thriller which tells the story of children’s illustrator Marisa who meets Jake online. It doesn’t take long for them to start living together and expecting a baby. However, Marisa has experienced trauma in her past and becomes deeply unsettled by unexpected visits from Jake’s mother Annabelle and the behaviour of their lodger Kate who doesn’t appear to understand appropriate boundaries while she is living with them. The novel has a big twist in the middle which is equivalent to those half way through Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and ‘Fingersmith’ by Sarah Waters in that it forces the reader to re-evaluate everything they have just read through completely new eyes. While it is difficult to discuss this in detail without spoilers, it will certainly strike a nerve one way or another, and I think it is cleverly done overall. Day has experienced miscarriages and IVF treatment in real life, and the issues related to fertility and mental health in this creepy domestic noir are explored in a thoughtful and affecting way.