Welcome to our weekly Books Digest where we round up the new books you should, and shouldn’t, be reading. This week features The Flames by Sophie Haydock, Butler to the World: How Britain Became the Servant of Tycoons, Tax Dodgers, Kleptocrats and Criminals by Oliver Bullough and The Anatomy of Anxiety by Dr Ellen Vora.

For more books, take a look through our Books Digest Archive.

The Flames: This is the story of four muses. Let them speak. by Sophie Haydock (Transworld Publishing), £12.29.

Saffron Swire

With his signature style of figural distortion, contorted angles, and erotically-charged interpretations of the female form, the painter Egon Schiele (1890-1918) was one of the titans of Austrian Expressionism. A protégé of Gustav Klimt, Schiele created over three thousand drawings over his brief career that broke with traditional beauty norms, making him one of the art world’s most prolific draughtsman. His portraits and self-portraits, raw explorations of the sitters’ psyches and sexuality, hang in some of the world’s best art galleries and sell for the millions, but the women in these paintings have been by and large neglected, until now.  

The Flames is an electrifying fictional debut by the journalist Sophie Haydock. It is inspired by the works of Egon Schiele, but more importantly, four of his muses: Adele Harms (his impassioned sister-in-law), Edith Harms (his “conventional” wife), Gertrude Schiele (his spirited sister) and Walburga (Vally) Neuzil (a former model of Gustav Klimt’s). Set in bohemian Vienna at the dawn of the 20th century, Haydock unravels the entangled lives of these four women; their hopes, dreams and wildest desires. We learn that being in the life of Egon Schiele was no easy feat; he was labelled as a depraved pornographer and his sitters, prostitutes. 

The Flames offers a behind-the-scenes exploration of the nuanced lives of these castigated women and what it was like to be a sitter of Schiele’s not only against a backdrop of controversy but during a time that saw the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and the ushering in of a new century. Expect a menagerie of heartbreak, grief, scandal and jealousy in an engrossing blend of fact with fiction. The Flames breathes life into the women in Egon Schiele’s life, immortalised in his canvases and now in these very pages.

Butler to the World: How Britain Became the Servant of Tycoons, Tax Dodgers, Kleptocrats and Criminals by Oliver Bullough (Profile Books), £14.19.

John Freeman

The horrors of the war in Ukraine and the sanctioning of Russian “oligarchs” has given an immediate resonance to Oliver Bullough’s Butler to the World. In his earlier investigation of the ill-gotten gains of dictators, oligarchs and criminals, Moneyland, Bullough showed how the loosening of international financial controls from the 1970s onwards had enabled billions of dollars to move freely and often secretly around an increasingly globalised financial system.

His new book is a sequel but with Britain put at the centre of the blame frame as a critical conduit in a system largely outside democratic control. He argues that as international controls were abandoned and new financial instruments crafted, bankers in the City took on a kind of post-imperial facilitating role both in London and via “offshore” outliers in the Crown Dependencies of Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man and via Britain’s Overseas Territories in Gibraltar and in the Caribbean. 
However, Bullough’s focus on the British dimension of the globalised financial system means that other facilitating centres worldwide are largely left out of view. Many of them are as often as not to be found “onshore” (e.g. Delaware in the US, Switzerland, Luxembourg, etc.) as “offshore”. Furthermore, whilst Bullough draws out the full range of services provided in Britain and its dependencies by bankers, lawyers, accountants and a myriad of other professionals, non-British financial centres and jurisdictions do much the same. What he does show though, is that the world of financial secrecy is not just about oligarchs and thieves, money launderers and the like. The financial system in the service of globalisation also provides carefully crafted instruments — such as shell companies, special limited partnerships,
family and other trusts — designed to facilitate “legal” means of tax evasion.
Bullough’s central thesis is that unless democratic controls are asserted anew in Britain (and elsewhere), the leaching of money owed to others — not least to tax authorities — will continue to distort global financial governance. To his mind, Britain can and should set higher standards for itself.

The Anatomy of Anxiety by Dr Ellen Vora (Orion Publishing), £12.59.

Lily Pagano

In her book The Anatomy of Anxiety: Understanding and Overcoming the Body’s Fear Response, Dr Ellen Vora offers a fresh perspective on mental health — suggesting that anxiety is not simply rooted in the brain, but that it is a condition that involves the whole body. We are taught the difference between “true” and “false” anxiety — anxiety from the mind and anxiety originating from an imbalance in the body, caused by factors such as sleep deprivation or dips in our blood sugar. 

Vora argues that this “false” anxiety is much more preventable than we realise, adapting quickly to simple changes in our diet and lifestyle. This leaves room for the deeper-rooted “true” anxiety to be addressed.

Vora’s approach feels both genuine and insightful. Refreshingly, Vora herself recognises that there is no “one-size fits all” method to treating mental health, and we are invited to take from the book what we wish. Supported by her own clinical work and experience, the reader is gently guided through the healing process. We are given actionable strategies that can be applied to our everyday lives, such that we can begin to reframe our relationship with our body and mind.