BOOK REVIEW / Paperbacks

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The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe, Picador pounds 5.99. A slice of modern Gothic, or Roddy Doyle with added blood? Either way, this macabre and pathetic story of Francie Brady, the reviled orphan Pig Boy who scrabbles to find his place in a small Irish town, has collected prizes and plaudits galore - and recent news events have lent extra interest to McCabe's powerful picture of the seamless conversion of childhood violence into full-scale mania.

Shakespeare and the Complete Goddess of Being by Ted Hughes, Faber pounds 9.99. A formidably dense study of Shakespeare's plays, piled high with conjectures, commentaries, close readings and by- the-way facts ('Shakespeare's vocabulary is around 25,000 words. The nearest, among English classical authors, is Milton with 12,000'). Hughes, who writes here not with best-behaviour Laureate sedateness but with mad- boffin enthusiasm, discerns an underlying myth, or pair of myths, or mythic 'equation', through the last 14 plays, and doggedly and illuminatingly tracks down his prey. The Bard will never be the same.

Love and Empire by Eric Orsenna, trs Jeremy Leggatt, Vintage pounds 5.99. A persuasively rumbustious Shandyesque saga about world history, the end of empire, the rubber business and Gabriel, a hero with a passion for two sisters. 'Memories love world wars,' Orsenna insists, though 'we tell them again and again that they shouldn't' - before moving on to the medicinal properties of various mineral waters. Written with sweetly dated hilarity and great verve.

Lifelines: An Anthology of Poems Chosen by Famous People, Penguin pounds 5.99. Charity anthology, based on a bright idea some Dublin schoolchildren had. Several predictable choices: Jeffrey Archer goes for Kipling; Antony Sher and Kenneth Branagh for Shakespeare; Mother Teresa for St Francis of Assisi; Seamus Heaney, who contributes the preface, for Yeats (easily the most nominated poet). But there are surprises, too: John Gielgud (Housman), Sue Lawley (Matthew Arnold), Lynn Barber (Shelley) and David Owen (Cavafy).

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