BOOKS / Paperbacks

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Breach Candy by Luke Jennings, Vintage pounds 5.99. The background of this subtle, atmospheric novel is the sly depravity of the Indian film industry, about which Jennings writes in two voices, both belonging to neurotics - a recently retired American ballerina and a British TV film-maker obsessed with an Indian movie starlet. The eventual convergence of these two expatriates at a Bombay sea-bathing club is not at all what you might expect.

The Green Crow: Selected Writings by Sean O'Casey, Virgin pounds 7.99. With O'Casey 30 years dead, here is a bunch of occasional prose from 1957, now disinterred for a first paperbacking. The lead essay is enjoyably Behanesque in a verbally inebriated manner, while others (attacks on Noel Coward, various critics, opponents of a 'National Theatre') seem hardly worth reprinting. But the book is emphatically worth buying for four wonderful slice-of- life short stories which are unavailable elsewhere and stand comparison with Joyce's Dubliners.

Jagger Unauthorised by Christopher Andersen, Pocket Books pounds 6.99. 'The story of a generation' is how this book portentously describes itself, yet there's something to that. Jagger, 50 this year, has been an icon from the moment he appeared on Thank Your Lucky Stars in 1963, when a dull-witted TV executive told the Stones' manager to 'lose the vile-looking singer with the tyre- tread lips'. Clearly more polymorphous than most, Jagger goes for all the usual rock star excesses while not forgetting to phone his mum and his broker and to renew his MCC subscription. Overall he comes across as honest but a hypocrite, clever but a bozo, among other contradictions. 'Mick?' said Keith Richards once, 'he's a lovely bunch of guys.'

The Tenancy by Eva Figes, Minerva pounds 5.99. Edith Johnson, alone after years caring for an aged mother, is tenant in a house of 'multiple occupancy'. Her co-residents are all in their way victims - a single mother and her son, a refugee couple, a middle-aged woman on the verge of madness - but the screw is cruelly turned on their separate troubles when the Rachmanesque landlord tries to harass them. This vision of quiet inner-city desperation is sparely and perhaps superficially presented, yet its final effect is to dignify a demeaning condition with humanity and poise.

And When Did You Last See Your Father? by Blake Morrison, Granta pounds 6.99. A son's backward glance from beside his father's deathbed, settling accounts, resolving mysteries, testing his love for a man whose flawed character he faces with deadpan, unblinking honesty. Morrison offers parallel accounts of his father as a vigorously egocentric Skipton GP in the Fifties and Sixties, and as a cancer patient - reduced to a 'decrepit invalid to be patronised' - in the Nineties. The resulting intimate portrait is both fascinating and deeply moving.

The Opal and Other Stories by Gustav Meyrink, trs Maurice Raraty, Dedalus pounds 7.99. The Viennese Meyrink was an oddball - a satirist who was simultaneously a banker and an occult-freak. These tales - sci-fi, ghost-stories, gothic fables, oriental allegories - were written in the first decade of the century and are now translated for the first time. They make a magnificent introduction to his bizarre genius, which combined the sharp Bohemian scepticism of his contemporary Kafka with the mordant humour and outreach of Swift.

Genet by Edmund White, Picador pounds 9.99. Besides his greatness as a writer, Genet had a genius for the perverse misplacement of Christian ethics. His joy in homosexuality may have been emulated in print, but Genet surely remains out on his own in the unabashed celebration of treachery and theft. White's biography is properly monumental, carefully detailing the institutions which formed Genet's character - foster parents, reform schools, prisons, army. It is good on the literary Paris where he made his mark as a writer, and on the political turmoil of the Europe through which the young Genet wandered and stole. If the subject finally eludes or defies empathy, it seems likely White has got as near as anyone could.

Scar Tissue by Michael Ignatieff, Vintage pounds 5.99. This second novel (which made the 1993 Booker shortlist) is cast in the form of a moving memoir about the narrator's dying mother. He is a philosopher, uneasily married and uneasy about his own worth; she is suffering from progressive, hereditary memory-loss. As the deterioration of her mind is chronicled, the book becomes a powerful meditation, by turns emotional and analytical, on identity, illness and death by a man who asks: 'When should I struggle and when should I give in?'

Edward Heath: A Biography by John Campbell, Pimlico pounds 14. Son of a carpenter, precocious, a bit of a mother's boy, aloof from other kids but showing early leadership qualities - illustrious historical precedents exist for the boyhood of Edward Heath. But in truth this is a very 20th-century, very British story about humble origins and scholarships, and the meritocratic opportunities of the mid-century. The mature Heath was repressed, stubborn, self- centred and possessed no (publicly) discernible sense of humour, but he was devoted to duty, tidiness and, above all, modernisation. Why did he leave the nation in such a mess in 1974? One thumbnail judgement from John Campbell is that he was more interested in government than politics. A rather unexpectedly absorbing 800 pages, one of the four books shortlisted for the NCR prize (see In The Lists, below).

Writing on Skin by Sara Banerrji, Black Swan pounds 5.99. Sparky Anglo-Indian Hermione has been married 50 years to complacent Hugh, a tea-planter. They retire from the sub-continent to an English rectory, but after Hugh's sudden death and an assault on Hermione by skinheads she decides to return to India to seek the holy man with whom she'd had an affair 30 years before. Meanwhile, her middle-aged progeny struggle with problems of sex, drug addiction, poverty, disappointment. Just a touch dated (something like middle-period Iris Murdoch), this novel and its protagonist are nevertheless very beguiling.

A Trip to the Light Fantastic: Travels with a Mexican Circus by Katie Hickman, Flamingo pounds 6.99. A travel book about Mexico, seen from the eccentric vantage-point of the big top, the high wire, the elephant's back and the cavalcade of brightly-painted caravans. It is an odd and interesting angle of vision which illuminates not only the Mexican nation (or nations, because there are many), but the fantastical society of the circus itself, a closed world with universal appeal. Not just for tourists.

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