Books: Paperbacks

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W B Yeats: a life, vol I, the apprentice mage by R F Foster,

Oxford, pounds 15, 640pp

THE PROTEAN figure who emerges from Roy Foster's monumental, surprisingly amusing reassessment of W B Yeats is very much of our times: drug-taking (he preferred hashish to mescal), drawn to mysticism, we even see him with his lover shopping for a bed in the Tottenham Court Road. Though intimately involved with the decadent movement, this most ambitious of poets also played a key role in forging modern Ireland. A major strength of the book is its delineation of Yeats's personal relations - from his tangled love life to his admirably unequivocal support for Oscar Wilde. Foster is content to let the poetry, which he quotes generously, speak for itself.

Only the Lonely: the Roy Orbison story

by Adam Clayson,

Sanctuary, pounds 12, 226pp

THE LIFE of the Big O was notoriously peppered with tragedy. And similar misfortune seems to be pursuing him beyond the grave, judging by this garbled biography. It is frequently impossible to fathom out what is going on, from early struggles ("This breath of stale air commenced a wrestling with vocational stimulus...") through success in England ("He was the sombre side of Freddy Garrity's coin") to the Travelling Wilbury's ("He was... a well-spring of kismet supercool"). From a self-penned biographical note, we learn that the author is also a singer, whose new album is his "artistic apotheosis". Good job too, if this is anything to go by.

Musical Anecdotes

by Henry Kelly and John Foley,

Hodder, pounds 6.99, 328pp

WEIRDLY UNFUNNY, this trawl of hors d'oeuvres would be an ideal present for a musical nephew - as long as you never see him. Though it is interesting to learn the accuracy of the Mozart character in the film Amadeus - apparently the great man was "remarkably small (four foot, eleven inches), very thin and pale, with a profusion of fine, fair hair" - your appreciation of this book will depend on how amusing you find Sir Thomas Beecham's view of the trombone as an "antique drainage system" or the anonymous contribution "Why do violinists stand outside people's houses? Because they can't find the key and don't know when to come in." Ha!

Murder a Cigarette

by Ralph Harris and Judith Hatton,

Duckworth, pounds 7.95, 147pp

ENTERING THE fag end of the debate, Lord Deedes (author of the book's preface), Lord Harris (Chairman of Forest) and Judith Hatton (a wartime Ministry of Information censor), muster up the usual libertarian answer to the anti-smoking "SS Brigade". Dismissing medical statistics on one page, and then marshalling them in their defence the next - though they do acknowledge that heavy smokers account for 90 per cent of deaths from lung cancer - the book's thesis boils down to that most uncontroversial of statistics: that most of us will be dead by 80 whether we smoke or not. More provocatively, the authors deny the dangers of "passive smoking" and the effect of smoke on newborn babies.

The Safest Place

by Fergus Linenhan,

Pan, pounds 6.99, 262pp

SET IN wartime Ireland, Fergus Linenhan's enjoyable second novel tells the story of a young man on the run. Sent to Dublin to assassinate a Special Branch detective, young Republican Eddie O'Sullivan spends his days in a boarding house and his nights falling in love with Kay, a show singer at Dublin's Coliseum. But, after the deadly deed is done, Eddie is forced to flee into the cold winter countryside. Populating his novel with Judith Hearne-like spinsters, penniless variety artistes and war-mad schoolboys, film critic Linenhan (the author of Under the Durian Tree) knows the virtues of unfussy prose and old-fashioned storytelling.

Delusions and Discoveries

by Benita Parry,

Verso, pounds 13, 274pp

MARRED BY academic gobbledegook ("transcoding is a disjunctive process"), this critical work tackles the intriguing theme of Anglo-Indian fiction inspired by the Raj during its apogee from 1880-1930. Parry savages imaginative flesh-creepers by "irreproachable matrons" ("I myself have seen a handsome youth sacrificed to Kali, bled at the wrists and ankles and disembowelled," frothed Maude Diver). Parry is equally scathing about three more talented writers: "preposterous", "superficial", "irascible". Though Kipling is the best of a bad lot, she insists he viewed India "through ethnocentric lenses". Well, there's a surprise.

City Girl,

by Patricia Scanlan, Bantam, pounds 5.99, 477pp

DEVLIN, CAROLINE and Maggie, the three smiling-eyed heroines of Patricia Scanlan's Irish bestseller, follow a traditional route to the altar: fresh out of the convent, they get pregnant, lie in hot baths, leave Dublin for New York, and return home to marry loveable louts. Not nearly as entertaining a read as Marian Keyes - her younger and hipper competitor in the field - Scanlan's book fails to deliver either on sex or shopping, although she does have a nice line in gruesome car accidents. The Grafton Street Benetton is as glamorous as it gets, and suffice to say that all three girls are left to discover their innermost selves in aerobics and white wine.

The Oxford Companion

to the Mind

edited by Richard L Gregory,

Oxford, pounds 15.99, 856pp

DESPITE ITS encyclopaedia-like format, the quirkiness of the entries prevent this tome being too much like a text-book. The section on "Humour" quotes Wyndham Lewis that laughter is "the mind sneezing". The contributor of the idiosyncratic entry on R D Laing ("whence comes decisions about who can, must, cannot, must not do what to whom...") turns out to be one RDL. Though the book is weighted towards the editor's specialist field of visual perception (his essay on "illusion" even fills the fly-leaf), its scope ranges from "Laughing Gas" to "Paranormal", from "Turing, Alan" to "Out of Body Experience". For the price, this is a bargain.