Books in brief: Into the Silence | My Dear Hugh | The Everyday Dancer

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Michael Kerrigan casts his eye over recently published books...

Into the Silence

by Wade Davis

(Bodley Head, £25) *****

Sir Henry Newbolt notoriously compared a battle in the Sudan with a school cricket match; soldiers on the Somme kicked footballs before them as they charged out into No Man’s Land. But if Britain’s wars were won on the playing fields of Eton (and other, less hallowed, turf), did the experience of fighting affect what might be loosely described as ‘fun’? While Wade Davis shows how the Mallory generation brought the language of military campaigning to the ‘assault’ on Everest, he takes in just about every other aspect of imaginative life in the years after the First World War, painting a vivid portrait of a generation of young men whose friends had fallen at the Front, who had undergone unthinkable sufferings themselves and were never going to be the same again.

My Dear Hugh

edited by Tim Heald

(Frances Lincoln, £20) **

“I see, in the TLS, that you have been denounced by some dreary African as a ‘racist’…”; “A Canadian Marxist, to boot, there is some General Law which makes Canadian Whatevers more boring than any others…” Richard Cobb’s letters to Hugh Trevor-Roper and others whisk us back to Oxford’s High Tables in that Golden Age Before Political Correctness. There’s no graver charge than that of dullness; except perhaps that of earnest idealism – unfortunately for a don, one inseparably associated with the young and bright. We all know how insufferable the student Left can be – and never more so than in the 1970s; it’s always fun to see a slaughter of someone’s sacred cows. There is wit here, glimpsed in occasional flashes through the fug of complacency and condescension which seems to have settled over the off-duty moments of an academic life of real achievement.

The Everyday Dancer

by Deborah Bull

(Faber, £14.99) ****

The ballerina’s enchanting hour upon the stage is, we know, the culmination of endless days – days of dreaming, of discipline and sheer hard work. But what are these days actually like? This book draws on Deborah Bull’s own life without quite being a memoir; a personal view, it all comes across with complete conviction. Bull doesn’t spare us the blood, sweat and tears: despite everything, though, she remains an enthusiast. This is not just a compelling but a heartening read.