Books: Paperbacks

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The Ern Malley Affair by Michael Hayward, Faber pounds 7.99. In 1943 the Australian writer Max Harris, editor of the avant-garde magazine Angry Penguins, was sent a coffee-stained sheaf of poems. Theirauthor, according to the accompanying letter, was the hitherto unknown and recently defunct Ern Malley. Bingo, thought Harris, and set about promoting Malley as Australia's own marvellous boy. Alas, it soon turned out that Ern hadn't ever been a boy - or a man, come to that. He was a figment whose entire output had been created in a single afternoon by two young writers,

Harold Stewart and James McAuley. This definitive account of the hoax can't help being entertaining, but it's light-handedly serious too - raising interesting questions about the effect and nature of parody, and of its relation to 'straight' literature.

Lenin's Tomb by David Remnick, Penguin pounds 7.99. Earlier this year,

Lenin's Tomb was awarded the Pulitzer Prize - and no wonder. David Remnick's account of the Gorbachev era is a wonderful example of how

analytic history can combine with eye-

witness accounts to capture the life of a time. Scanning the whole, enormous canvas of the former Soviet Union, Remnick shows that the 'last days' of one empire were inevitably the 'first days' of another which inherited many of its problems. Zhirinovsky, for instance, who looms large and loathsome in an afterword added for this paperback publication. A remarkable book; strongly recommended.

Never At Home by Dom Moraes, Penguin pounds 6.99. When Dom Moraes was a 19-year-old undergraduate at Oxford, his first book of poems won the Hawthornden Prize. These days prizes are almost commonplace; in 1957 the success seemed extraordinary. It brought Moraes (roughly in this order) 'many girls, and indeed women', a rapidly developing interest in drink, and - before long - a bad case of writer's block. In his first volume of autobiography, My Son's Father (1968), Moraes wrote headily, still carried along by the momentum of his flying start. This second instalment is more cautious, worky and modest. Literary types will enjoy its portrait of Fitzrovia's declining years, but Moraes's accounts of his globe- trotting for UNFPA are valuable too, as are his memories of India in general and Mrs Gandhi in particular.

The Media Trilogy by Robert

Harris, Faber pounds 9.99. Before Robert Harris made his fortune with Fatherland he made his name with these three classic studies: Gotcha], about tabloid journalism and the Falklands War; Selling Hitler, the story of the diaries that weren't; Good and Faithful Servant, an account of the Bernard Ingham phenomenon. Together, they make a compelling portrait of modern vagaries and venalities.

The House of Doctor Dee by Peter Ackroyd, Penguin pounds 5.99. Ackroyd's fiction has always had its feet on the ground - usually the ground of London - and its head in the clouds, but in this, his seventh novel, the disparities are mechanical and over-worked. As Matthew Palmer investigates the history of a house in Clerkenwell he has inherited from his father, we are dragged to and fro between powerful evocations of the city and too shy

invocations of the black arts. Brutally skipped, it might make an undemanding beach browse. Read thoroughly, it seems like a Famous Five adventure rewritten by Nikolaus Pevsner.

The Neanderthals by Erik Trinkaus and Pat Shipman, Pimlico pounds 12.50. In 1856 some quarrymen blasted their way into a cave high above the river Dussel, where it flows through the Neander valley towards Dusseldorf. Inside they found a skull and part of a skeleton. Bear, they thought at first, then took the bones to a local schoolteacher, who pronounced them the fossils of an extinct and previously unknown human type. Ever since 'that sunny August day', scientists have argued about what precisely Neanderthal Man was like, and this comprehensive book covers all the options. Inevitably, this makes it a tome of the scholarly kind - but it's fluently written, and the authors keep grabbing our attention by leaping to the defence of their Man whenever he's depicted merely as a bone-waving, hairy-jawed Millwall supporter.

The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf by Kathryn Davis, Penguin pounds 6.95. Helle Ten Brix (no, not a type of kiddies' building kit but an elderly Danish composer) falls in love with a young single mother, Frances. When Helle dies, Frances inherits an unfinished opera - a story of self-interest, guilt, repression and punishment. She feels bound to complete it - and as she does so, its themes spill off the page into her own life, forcing her to face difficult truths about Helle as well as her own past. It's an unsettled as well as an unsettling novel, claustrophobic as well as fastidious, precious as well as ambitious.

Tuppenny Stung by Michael

Longley, Lagan Press (Belfast BT12 4AB; ISBN 1 873607 15 X). Longley's poems are about dualities, and combine an almost fin-de-siecle romanticism with a robust watchfulness. In these three brief prose 'autobiographical chapters' it's his clear eye which brings the greatest rewards - whether he's remembering the divided loyalties of his youth, or the tensions of his former job as Combined Arts Director of the Northern Ireland Arts Council. Wary but generous,

intense but forgiving, the book tells good stories and conjures up an exceptional and charming personality.