Private Lives, Public Spirit: Britain 1870-1914 by Jose Harris, Penguin pounds 6.99. Building her argument round a thematic structure - 'Family and Household', 'Property', 'Work' - Harris holds that Modernism (a strictly mental construct, she insists) is less the result of the Great War than of the way ideas were shaped as tools of thought in the late 19th century - a time when most of the abstract terms we now rely on, including 'society' itself, were minted. But in the end, there is the clear suggestion that the period under scrutiny has less resonance for our times than the chaotic, inequitable government of the pre- 1870 era, so well denounced in the social novels of Dickens.
A Dead Man in Deptford by Anthony Burgess, Vintage pounds 5.99. Burgess in the Elizabethan age would have been as happy as a pig in poop, so it is appropriate that his last full-scale novel (he died last November) should give us the life and untimely death of Kit Marlowe, playwright, spy and over-reacher, who checked out aged 29 in a Deptford pub with a con-man's knife in his head. The prose, exuberant, exacting, learned and lewd, never flags. This is a brilliant pastiche.
Vampires: The World of the Undead by Jean Marigny, Thames & Hudson pounds 6.95. Video nasties not withstanding, there's nothing modern about the human fascination with gore-soaked sacrifice and baroque murder. Marigny traces demonic blood-lust through geography and time - back to the Greeks and the Old Testament, through the 15th- century succubi and incubi condemned by Pope Innocent VIII, to vampirism's golden age - perversely, at the height of the Enlightenment - and on to the Victorian and 20th-century obsession with stakes through hearts and pointy teeth. This pocket- size volume (another winner in the bargain-priced New Horizons series) is bursting with history, anecdote and pictures ranging from the sublime to the kitsch and hilarious.
Presumed Guilty by Michael Mansfield with Tony Wardle, Mandarin pounds 5.99. 'It is not just over big cases that the criminal justice system falls apart.' The author, a leading radical QC, believes we can cure the malaise only by putting a version of the French examining magistrate in charge of criminal investigations. His principal case-study is a little-known 1989 murder in Aylesbury, following which two Asians fell victim to the coppers' prejudiced carelessness. The case is presented with all the forensic detail the True Crime buff could wish, while fuelling more widespread and serious concerns about the jaundiced reputation of British justice.
Morgan: A Biography of E M Forster by Nicola Beauman, Sceptre pounds 9.99. Beauman turns up some previously unknown early sexual adventures and aims to throw light on the genesis of Forster's one overtly homosexual (and only posthumously published) novel, Maurice, which she maintains was begun in guilty response to the suicide of a gay acquaintance in 1910. The book gives a generally excellent account of Forster from childhood to mid-life, but has disappointingly little to say about his last 45 years when, though he had abandoned fiction, he had by no means stopped thinking and writing.
Murder in the Dark by Margaret Atwood, Virago pounds 5.99. A collection of sketches and very short fictions by probably Canada's best feminist writer. Some - the title story and an imaginary history essay about what might happen if men supplanted their wives in the kitchen - almost achieve the packed economy of Borges. Others do rather trespass across the borderline into pretentiousness.
Eight Little Piggies: Reflections on Natural History by Stephen Jay Gould, Penguin pounds 7.99. The indefatigable Gould's monthly bulletins on biological theory in the American Natural History magazine have justly achieved cult status, and this is his eighth reprinted collection. Always challenging, combative and widely referenced, they deal with such quirkily diverse subjects as Polynesian snails, the domestication of animals, the recycling of car tyres into footwear and (in the title essay) the question of why we have five fingers and toes. Real science, really popular, but never in the least patronising.
The Laughter of Fools by Charlotte Cory, Faber pounds 5.99. In this quirky second novel a fatherless child, Jeannie, can solve the mystery of her lineage only by attending to the biography of a woman who occasionally visits her house, the beautiful Rosa Pegglar. Rosa's father, a breeder of prize poultry, hid a bizarre collection of secrets, as does Rosa herself, and the listener/narrator Jeannie finds herself exploring with wonder something like a nest of Chinese boxes. Along the way, Cory plays entertaining games with pullets, pornography and paternity. A writer to watch.
D-Day 1944: Voices from Normandy by Robin Neillands and Roderick de Normann, Orion pounds 5.99. One of the best of the current crop of Overlord books. The invasion was an epic, no- way-back adventure, whose failure might have lost the war: 200,000 infantry, 6,000 ships, countless landing craft, planes, gliders, tanks, jeeps and field guns all funnelled into France, in bad weather, through a 50-mile stretch of well-defended coastline. The doggedness and heroism, and the dismal casualness of death in war, are all reflected in this very readable narrative, illuminated throughout by the testimony of survivors.
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