Book Review: In Brief

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The Independent Culture
The Faber Book of Madness ed Roy Porter, pounds 8.99. Not the kind of convenience publishing that 'book of' often heralds, but a gripping anthology about insanity through the ages, by victims and carers alike. The patients' accounts of being certified are enough to make your hair curl and, for all the humanity of the writing about post-Freudian therapy, one is left wondering if we understand madness any better than they did in the days of the dreaded asylum.

Ever After by Graham Swift, Picador pounds 5.99. Bill Unwin is one of life's losers, an ageing academic haunted by the memory of two suicides: his wife's (after contracting cancer) and his father's (was unfaithful mother to blame?). Unwin's work on the notebooks of a dangerously Darwinian ancestor adds a rich strand to this quiet, subtle novel about family skeletons. Despite comic moments, Swift's saddest novel so far.

Barcelona by Robert Hughes, Harvill pounds 9.99. Among the avalanche of bumf about the city produced to coincide with last year's Olympics, this hefty tribute - part history, part guide, richly factual but intimate and idiosyncratic - looks set to become a classic.

The Russian Girl by Kingsley Amis, Penguin pounds 5.99. A love story powered by hatred as Richard, a deeply English professor of Slavonic studies, falls for visiting Russian poet Anna, while knowing, against his ardent wishes, that a) her poems are horribly bad and b) his rich, intricately 'monstrous' wife will give him hell. The usual petrol-mix of complicated syntax and crude prejudice, without the usual spark.

Arcadia by Jim Crace, Picador pounds 5.99. Despite its title, this book sees Crace inching from the taut mythicism of his earlier work towards ampler realism, in a story about an old millionaire in an unnamed British city and the journalist writing his biography. Unused to handling the utility furniture of naturalism, Crace can be clumsy with character and dialogue, but his own voice - and his singular vision of such polarities as poverty and wealth, tradition and progress - are as compelling as ever.

The Bookshops of London by Charles Frewin and Derek Lubner, Two Heads Publishing (12-50 Kingsgate Rd, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey), pounds 6.99. Low- budget, home-produced guide focusing on the range of the capital's specialist bookstores: from Academic and Antiquarian to Travel and Women, not forgetting (the biggest section) Second- hand. Opinionated short entries and a range of indexes. A handy pocketbook.

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