Books: Paperbacks

Click to follow
Original Bliss by A L Kennedy, Vintage pounds 5.99. One review of Don DeLillo's recent shelf-buckler contained the interesting remark that "while America has Underworld, we have A L Kennedy". So we do, and shouldn't we be pleased with ourselves? Kennedy's intimate, inward-looking precis of the human condition aren't written with the world-historical, continent- spanning intent that marks out big American novels; but her tweezer-and- microscope approach to the workings of the heart is no less ambitious. The 10 short stories and one novella in this volume aren't all entirely successful. But even at her dullest she's startlingly sharp, homing in with frightening precision again and again on the ways that longing and self-deception fur up our relationships.

Imagining Reality: The Faber Book of Documentary by Kevin McDonald and Mark Cousins, Faber pounds 11.99. An annoying anthology but - and this is what makes it really annoying - also required reading. The annoyance has several sources. The first is the title: the subject isn't documentary pure and simple but documentary cinema, plus some later forays into television. None of the hard thinking about representing reality that has been done by photographers, writers and radio programme-makers gets a mention. The second source is the often predictable modishness of the editors' opinions - in particular, they've got it in for John Grierson (who, after all, only founded documentary cinema in this country and trained an entire generation of film-makers). Among other things, he gets told off for his definition of documentary as "the creative use of actuality", "a phrase so broad it is almost meaningless". I'd have said it means almost exactly the same thing as "imagining reality", and both are pretty good stabs at a definition. If it's vagueness you're after, TV film-maker Philippa Lowthorpe's justification of her art ("I think the 'eye' of the director is very important") takes the cheesy biscuit. Unfortunately, starting with Maxim Gorky's wary response to his first experience of cinema through to J Hoberman's fine analysis of Claude Lanzmann's Shoah, Imagining Reality includes a good deal of writing that's both hard to get hold of and essential. We'll just have to put up with it, I suppose.

Paul: The Mind of the Apostle, by A N Wilson, Pimlico pounds 10. These days St Paul gets the blame for all Christianity's worst tendencies - queer- basher, woman-hater, Jew-baiter. Wilson's follow-up to his life of Jesus is a merrily provocative attempt to rescue Paul from the caricature of the "stiff-necked reactionary" who chained up the "free-and-easy Jesus- religion". He tries to reconstruct the historic Paul (about whom surprisingly little is known: it's not clear that he was born at Tarsus, or even that he was necessarily Jewish) and place him in his context. The apostle emerges as a serial plagiarist, who nabbed all his best ideas from pagan rites, and a "prophet of liberty, whose visionary sense of the importance of the inner life anticipates the Romantic poets more than the rule-books of the Inquisition". Erudite, unreliable, teasing, enlightening and altogether a ripping read.

Hatchepsut: The Female Pharaoh by Joyce Tyldesley, Penguin pounds 8.99. History has, apparently, given Hatchepsut a raw deal - nobody ever spells her name right, and her achievements (stable government, expansion of trade, major building projects) have been overshadowed by gossip about court intrigues. Apart from anything else, she's often regarded as a queen of Egypt, despite the fact that she explicitly took the title of king, and later representations endow her with male genitalia. Tyldesley's book redresses the balance, telling you everything you ever wanted to know - and, presumably, rather more - about life and sexual politics in the 18th dynasty. She doesn't always resist the temptation to read more into the available evidence than is strictly warranted (trying to assess how physically attractive Hatchepsut was on the evidence of official carvings is surely futile), but it's a sensible, amazingly thorough book.

Andorra by Peter Cameron, 4th Estate pounds 6.99. The epigram to the first part of this novel is taken from Swann's Way: "Even from the simplest, the most realistic point of view, the countries which we long for occupy, at any given moment, a far larger place in our actual life than the country in which we happen to be." Which is obviously nonsense, but gives you a pretty good idea of what you're up against: a self-consciously literary quasi-thriller, set in an imaginary European country (unlike the real Andorra, this one has a coastline), written by an author with a weakness for posh birds and epigrammatic generalisation. Wants to be art, ends up merely arty.

Most scholars describe the life-size 'Victorious Youth', found in the Adriatic Sea, as an original Greek bronze. It was not new when it was shipped, so how Greek is it? This study examines comments and questions from consevators, archaeologists, art historians, medical doctors, students and museum visitors in an attempt to approach the truth. The Victorious Youth by Carol C Mattusch (Getty pounds 12.95).