BOOKS / Paperbacks

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Bucketful of Tongues by Duncan McLean, Minerva pounds 5.99. These hard-tipped, profane, unflinchingly vernacular stories push your nose firmly into the lives of (mostly) young, working-class, Caledonian males. McLean's commitment to naturalism, jabbing, unvarnished dialogue and refusal to sentimentalise are all admirable. But the yeasting of humour and the economical touches of surrealism ensure that it is never too tough to chew. Scotland's Roddy Doyle?

The Language of Genes by Steve Jones, Flamingo pounds 6.99. This slide down the double spiral of DNA - 'the icon of the 20th Century' - was rightly acclaimed. Steve Jones eschews dry technical exposition in favour of an almost endless chain of colourful anecdotes, and the result is a brilliantly effortless tour through the history of genetics, from the earliest finger-print test to today's project to read all three thousand million letters of the human genome.

European Encounters with the New World by Anthony Pagden, Yale pounds 9.95. We have all got used to hearing about the terrible crimes committed by the Old World on the New. Pagden's scholarly study, however, looks through the window from the other side, and explores the impact the New World had on the Old. As he shows through the examination of writers as diverse as Columbus and Herder, although European interpretations of 'savage' cultures were always distorted, their very existence worked to undermine belief in the values of European society.

George Eliot by Jenny Uglow, Virago pounds 8.99. Mary Ann Evans grew up a brilliant provincial child who 'read while dressing, walking, making jam' and went on to wealth and fame as an impeccably professional writer. Uglow's measured feminist reading aims to show how 'the most reactionary positions (from a 20th century feminist point of view) - the good daughter, the loving wife, the self-denying mother' become in her novels 'a subtle and subversive argument for a radical change in our way of looking at life'. Eliot emerges as an intellectual to her toenails, but one would like to have discovered a little bit more of her emotional, sexual and economic impulses.

Mr Mani by A B Yehoshua, Phoenix pounds 6.99. Fifth-generation Jerusalemite Yehoshua is one of Israel's most controversial writers. His novels are about flawed heroes and families in crisis, as well as confrontations with Jewish extremism. This one looks backwards through six generations of the sephardic Mani family using five emblematic 'dialogues' between Manis and/or those connected with them - starting with a student and her mother at a kibbutz in 1982 and ending in 1848 with a Rabbi's wife and a Salonika businessman at an Athens inn. The twist is that in each case only one side of the dialogue is recorded. The device takes some getting used to, but the effort is rewarding.

Robert Louis Stevenson by Frank McLynn, Pimlico pounds 10. A combination of weather, landscape, Calvinism, whisky, authoritarianism and fecklessness are thought by some to form the collective Scots neurosis, and pre-eminently in RLS. The son of an Edinburgh lighthouse engineer, Stevenson rebelled in every direction from his strait- laced family in a determined effort to reconcile his own contradictions - which he summed up as the desire 'to build lighthouses and write'. McLynn's biography, written 'in the firm conviction that Stevenson is the greatest Scottish writer of English prose', has a pace and sense of place worthy of its extraordinary subject.

Irrationality by Stuart Sutherland, Penguin pounds 6.99. Think you're a rational being? Think again. If rationality means doing things most likely to achieve your aims, then, according to Sutherland, our species is a failure. Inveterate explainers we may be, yet vanity constantly deludes us into error. Our most crippling problem is blind loyalty to what we already believe, leading us to fight off contradictory evidence with self-defeating tenacity. So, whether betting, investing, going to war or choosing a life partner, we might as well toss coins. Or, alternatively, follow Professor Sutherland's checklists of self-help advice.

Daughters of the House by Indrani Aikath-Gyaltsen, Phoenix pounds 4.99. Chchanda, 17, lives in idyllic happiness among the women of her aunt's old house, until the aunt marries, and Pratap the bridegroom moves in with his baritone voice 'spinning out solemn sentences that made the air smell of tobacco'. The effects on the girl of her first encounter with a man are predictable, but beautifully, subtly described in this first novel by an author who died only six months after it was first published.

Ghosts by John Banville, Minerva pounds 5.99. A book of gin-clear detail but opaque design. As you read you discard preliminary hypotheses - that this is a rewrite of The Tempest, for instance. Only gradually does it become apparent that the novel is a sequel to Banville's Booker-shortlisted The Book of Evidence. That was the story of a gruesome murder. Now out of jail, the murderer, Freddie Montgomery, arrives on an island inhabited by. . . what? Ghosts? Some of the characters might indeed be supernatural or imaginary creatures, but just who is haunting whom is the question in this gripping and teasing literary conundrum.

Correction. Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837 by Linda Colley is published by Pimlico, not by Picador, as we incorrectly stated in our 13 March issue. Apologies to all concerned.

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