BOOK REVIEW / Paperbacks

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Best Nightmare onEarth: A Life in Haiti by Herbert Gold, Flamingo pounds 6.99. This is the Haiti we have heard about: it's as normal as a three-pound note. Diplomats fall into 'selling their clothes and being picked up drunk and naked in a brothel called La Frontiere'. The country was decolonised in 1804, yet Gold finds a schoolbook teaching children their ancestors were blond Gauls. He sees recent photographs of a man publicly burned as a werewolf and chopped into small pieces. He is passed in the street by a running dog on fire, and knows that the Tontons Macoutes - the departed Duvaliers' secret police - are still about. He has dinner with Graham Greene, who asks Gold to procure him a woman. This is an amusing though scary account of a country that the Americans are now thinking of invading. Gold should tell it to the Marines.

Hendrix: Setting the Record Straight by John McDermott with Eddie Kramer, Warner pounds 7.99. Myths accumulate round dead rock stars like weed on a sunken wreck. This biography has the creditable aim of debunking some of those clogging the hulk of Jimi Hendrix. To his cult worshippers, Hendrix was a musical alchemist, a poet, a philosopher - and to real extremists a messiah whose death was the crucifixion. The more prosaic gospel, as offered here, is that Hendrix was supremely gifted as a session musician and soloist but rather less so as a thinker, and that in his death (he choked on his own vomit) he was the victim only of his own and others' stupidity. The detail is dull, but the excellent discography reminds you that it's not in the pages of a book that you should seek the truth about Hendrix.

The Wine-Dark Sea by Patrick O'Brian, HarperCollins pounds 4.99. C S Forester as though re-written by Anthony Powell? Large claims have been made by fans of O'Brian's long- running novel sequence set in Nelson's navy. The latest and 16th in line has Jack Aubrey's command the Surprise crossing the Pacific on a secret intelligence mission to Peru, with the surgeon-spy Stephen Maturin aboard. The historical detail and characters are carefully drawn and if some may find the narrative too slow, others will be queueing for it, as for their next ration of grog.

Round in Circles: Physicists, Pranksters, Poltergeists and the Secret History of the Cropwatchers byJim Schnabel, Penguin pounds 6.99. The mass outbreak of cereal hysteria in those heady crop-circling summers of the 1980s had incredible ramifications. A new discipline of Cerealogy was born, 'cornferences' were held, books and journals published. Meteorologists, plasma physicists and seismologists held debates about the possible causes. Dowsers, shamans, occultists, ufologists, TV crews, plus thousands of 'crop tourists' of course, swarmed all over southern England looking for extra-terrestrial clues. It was such a glorious annual midsummer feast of human gullibility, and is so wittily and lovingly described in this book, that you can't help regretting it's all over.

Hanging On: Diaries 1960-1963 by Frances Partridge, Flamingo pounds 6.99. This latest volume from the longest- surviving member of the Bloomsbury Group shows Partridge to be as acute an observer as ever, though here it is her own grief at her husband's death, and her slow clamber back on to 'the perch of my identity', that preoccupy her. 'These pitiful scribblings are like scratches on the vast monolith of my desolation,' she writes. Maybe, but they are also warmly affectionate, funny and inspiringly full of life.

(Photograph omitted)

Comments