BOOKS: PAPERBACKS

Still Me: A Life

by Christopher Reeve

Arrow pounds 6.99

"Where I come from, people are on a hose and they sit in chairs and they don't stand up." This is Superman-actor Christopher Reeve's description of being paralysed from the neck down. At first, he wanted to die. For a man used to playing superheroes, the irony was too awful: he had fallen from his mount while competing in a horse show, fallen on his head, and thus been robbed of the athleticism that gave meaning to his life. This memoir credits his wife - who insisted, "You're still you. And I love you" - with inspiring his fight back from despair. Now there is a new focus to his life: a hard-won wisdom that helps him cope with his condition of constant yearning, and that provides humour and insight in the telling of it. In short, he has learnt a different, less reckless kind of heroism; one that entails campaigning for medical research, and providing succour and encouragement to other spinal-injury victims who are too overwhelmed to want to continue living.

Wide Open

by Nicola Barker

Faber pounds 6.99

One of the characters in this ambitious novel claims to have invented "join-the-dots pornography" which is a fair description of the rate of exposure to which Barker subjects her protagonists. Her narrative is deliberately skimpy, but each element fits into a puzzle, the resolution of which blows apart our assumptions. Motorways have never seemed so mysterious, nor lost-property offices so magical, as Barker's oddballs search for redemption from a Christ-like homeless man adrift on a nudist beach in winter.

Once in a House on Fire

by Andrea Ashworth

Picador pounds 6.99

"My father drowned when I was five. A picture of me, framed in gold plastic, was fished from his pocket and returned to my mother with a soggy wallet and a bunch of keys." A heart-rending story of abuse, poverty and neglect told in a polished, dispassionate style by a beautiful Oxford research fellow was bound to grab attention. But Ashworth is exceptionally talented, and her memoir reads more like a finely-wrought novel with vivid period detail than some grubby confessional written by an unreconstructed neurotic (of which, sadly, there have been so many in recent times).

Casanova

by Andrew Miller

Sceptre pounds 6.99

Andrew Miller's first novel, Ingenious Pain, rich in period detail, won critical acclaim and a prize. So it is only natural that he should back a winning horse, and set his second novel in 1763 when the Venetian sex-machine, Casanova, arrives in London seeking diversion from his lusty ways. But pretty faces are hard to avoid, even in England, and it isn't long before Giacomo is in pursuit of an irresistibly virginal (or so he thinks) seductress. His predicament, as presented by Miller, is that for the first time Casanova must learn the pain of rejection, and the punishing effects of frustrated desire in order to grow out of his state of splendid emotional impenetrability. The only problem posed for the reader is whether to dwell on the sumptuous pleasures of Miller's intricate prose or to race along with the farcical complications of his plot.

Letters Home from The Crimea

ed Philip Warner

Windrush Press pounds 9.99

Among the British troops bound for the Black Sea in 1854 was Richard Temple Godman, who sent detailed letters home throughout the Crimean campaign. In a war that was as hard on men as it was on their charges, Godman brought his beloved horses home unscathed. Parts are amusing - hunting wild dogs, smoking Turkish cigarettes, but he can be scathing, particularly of the generals ("a good many muffs"), and the nursing staff, who exhibit a "sort of fanaticism" yet remain incapable of curbing disease.

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