Books: Paperbacks

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The Story of Britain

by Roy Strong,

Pimlico, pounds 20,


Introducing this monumental work, Sir Roy admits: "The project, I decided, demanded either two or 20 years." He went for the first option (in fact he spent four years on the task) and it shows. The text has a whiff of midnight oil about it. Perhaps he is not to be blamed for the lacklustre nature of the modern chapters. The European Free Trade Association, for example, lacks pizzazz compared to the gory reign of Edward II. As you would expect, the Tudor period shines out. Until we reach our own dull era, the illustrations are magnificent.

Baby Love

by Louisa Young,


pounds 6.99,


Cambridge-educated Evangeline Gower worked as a belly dancer in the West End until the motorbike crash that injured her and killed her eight-month pregnant sister. Now three years on and bringing up her sister's daughter as her own, she receives a phone call from the child's father asserting his parental rights. A fragile existence becomes even more fragile when Evangeline finds herself at the centre of a criminal investigation. Young's witty story is part stylish thriller, part in-depth study of a stressed out single parent.

Red Devils

by Richard Kurt,

Prion, pounds 8.99, 218pp

Talk about Sod's Law: no sooner had this "history of Man Utd's rogues and villains" left the press than the media's great Moloch prepared to gobble up the club. Ironically, the misdoings chronicled here must have earned millions for Murdoch's tabloids. After reminding us of George Best's two months in nick and Tommy Docherty's perjury trial, Richard Kurt lipsmackingly recalls seedy contenders for the title of "Old Trafford Sex God" before concluding with a discussion of Eric Cantona's "instinctive spontaneity". An entertaining catalogue of infamy.

Twiggy in

Black and White

Pocket Books,

pounds 6.99, 420pp

There are three things Twiggy wants to make clear: 1) she is very happily married to the very lovely Leigh Lawson; 2) she has never dieted and 3) Svengali Justin de Villeneuve was a greasy slimeball. With the help of capable ghost writer Penelope Dening, "Twigs" recalls life in the metabolic fast lane. Her rise from Neasden teenager to Sixties super- waif is remembered in jaunty period detail, though the last section of the book (the LA years) slips into sub-HELLO! speak as the author goes on about "happy happy" times with Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman.

Ark Baby

by Liz Jensen,

Bloomsbury, pounds 6.99, 343pp

Second novels can be hit-and-miss affairs, but Liz Jensen's is a sure thing. Alternating between 1850s Northumbria and post-millennial Tooting Bec, this inventive, very funny novel explores the crustier cul de sacs of female fertility and anthropomorphic sex. Five years after a Biblical-style flood, British women find themselves unable to conceive. But as the fertility crisis deepens, Buck de Savile, a veterinary surgeon and all-round dodgy customer, stumbles across what could be the missing link in the Darwinian chain of evolution in a seaside attic.


by Jenny Uglow,

Faber, pounds 12.99,


This most literary of artists is a wonderful subject for biography. It's hard to imagine how Jenny Uglow's treatment could be bettered as she pursues Hogarth through "the close, dense, argumentative London culture" of the 18th century which he captured so incomparably. Not a word is wasted. Her analysis is spot on: "It is as if he wanted order, but resented authority." In particular, Uglow is disturbed by Hogarth's "aesthetic delight in portraying cruelty". Though his spleen often got the better of his judgement, Hogarth's eye was unerring. The grotesque gallery that he portrayed is still all about us.