Books: Paperbacks

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A History of God

by Karen Armstrong,

Vintage, pounds 9.99,

511pp

IT WASN'T until Armstrong, a former nun, let her "belief in God slip away" that she was able to write this book. It contrasts the evolving concept of the supreme being from the viewpoints of Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith. This throws up a wealth of nuggets: the doctrine that Jesus is God was "not finalised until the fourth century", self-castration, as performed by third-century theologian Origen, "was common in late antiquity". Finally, she praises "the growing intolerance of inadequate images of the Absolute". (The Pope said exactly the same last week.)

Could it be Magic?

by Paul Magrs,

Vintage, pounds 6.99,

328pp

PAUL MAGRS's ambitious third novel tells what happens when the Christmas spirit (and several Boddington six-packs) get to work on the more susceptible residents of a run-down council estate in Co. Durham. Penny, an unemployed schoolteacher, starts an affair with a club-footed body builder; her flatmate Andy sleeps with a man plastered in animal tattoos; and her mother (a transvestite called Liz) collapses face down in the snow. A smart and funny writer, Magrs creates a magical-realist North East that is more engaging than it sounds.

Katherine's Wheel

by Rebecca Gregson,

Pocket Books, pounds 6.99, 373pp

OLD UNIVERSITY friends Beth, Katherine, Johnny and Patrick have always planned to see in the millennium together, but when the moment arrives, the class of 1982 don't have much to celebrate. Katherine and Johnny's marriage has fallen apart, Beth loves her restored Cornish farmhouse but not her solicitor husband, and American-based Patrick is depressed and sexually available. An entertaining and pleasantly folksy first novel, tinkling with wine glasses and wind-chimes. Rebecca Gregson explores what it is to be 35 and still not have got your life together.

Son of the Morning Star

by Evan S Connell,

Pimlico, pounds 12.50, 441pp

IMPRESSIONISTIC, YET packed with detail, Connell's account of the Battle of the Little Big Horn is irresistible history. Zigzagging across time, the writer explores every aspect of this pivotal event in which 50 or 60 troopers took on 20,000 braves. Connell reveals that the sordid, violent army life was a million miles away from She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. On the Indian side, he notes how each tribe had a distinctive style of scalping and what Sitting Bull said when trying out a telephone ("Hello, hello. You bet, you bet!"). But the book is dominated by the flamboyant figure of Gen George Custer.

Undiscovered Country

by Christina Koning,

Penguin, pounds 6.99, 309pp

A SULTRY account of Antonia (Tony), an English tomboy growing up in the Venezuela of the Fifties. To the accompaniment of Sinatra and Ellington, her mother Vivienne maintains a brittle facade of ceaseless expat socialising, while her American stepfather Jack scuttles off to his mistress. While her parents are distracted by hedonism, Tony explores the darker side of Caribbean life. But soon this delicately balanced artifice falls out of kilter with tragic consequences. On the eve of her return to England, Tony coolly observes how Jack's funeral turns into yet another party.

The Female Odyssey: voices for the 21st century

edited by Charlotte Cole and Helen Windrath,

The Women's Press, pounds 7, 148pp

WRITTEN AS a rallying cry for women to embrace the challenges of the next century, this anthology of millennial hopes leaves you feeling more exhausted than uplifted. Novelist Kate Mosse wants women writers to reject Aga sagas in favour of more "fantastic worlds"; Jenni Murray wants a "peace treaty in the sex war"; and Andrea Dworkin urges womankind to "have hard hearts; and learn how to kill" (and also plant the world with more flowers). Kathy Lette's vision of a Betty Ford Clinic for those addicted to the "pursuit of happiness" is probably the wisest wish in the book.

The Boy

by Naeem Murr,

Fourth Estate, pounds 6.99, 217pp

NAEEM MURR's chilling first novel is set among the backstreets of Battersea and around Victoria Station. Discovering his dead daughter's diary, Sean is determined to track down the beautiful blond boy to whom he was once a foster father. En route, he come across others (rent boys and social workers) who have also been seduced by the boy's angelic profile, cool green eyes and vampiric fascination with blood. A dark and menacing read, with a suitably creepy denouement; though occasionally Murr's more baroque imaginings threaten to break free from his carefully crafted prose.

Planet of the Blind

by Stephen Kuusisto,

Faber, pounds 6.99,

194pp

BLIND, EXCEPT for a few blurred fragments of sight, Kuusisto has written one of the richest works of observation in the English language. Every page pullulates with dazzling perceptions. At first, he simply ignored his disability. Though his "eyes are engines of apparition", Kuusisto cycled regularly for 20 years. Amid his wonderful language, it is jarring to read of repeated traumas: drink, drugs, bullying, anorexia. Only in his thirties, when he becomes the "human appendage" of a guide dog called Corky, does Kuusisto come to terms with his blindness. Through this masterpiece, he enables us all to see.

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