BOOKS; PAPERBACKS

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
! Dr Orwell & Mr Blair by David Caute, Phoenix pounds 5.99. This novelisation of Orwell's life carries a puzzling title. George Orwell was the least split of personalities; his life and art marched together in a single- minded war against hypocrisy, weasel-words and self-delusion. Besides, he despised R L Stevenson, thinking him pretentious and contrived. However, Caute's text is effective in capturing Orwell in the writing of Animal Farm. Popping down from London to the country, he develops a relationship with our narrator, a 12-year-old farmboy, Alex Brown, whose smallholding is complete with pigs Napoleon and Squealer and Boxer the carthorse. The notion is well carried through within its limits, though the "plot" takes second place to Blair's characterisation. That's a pity, because the portrait that emerges - oddball, dogmatic, mulish - holds few surprises for readers of Bernard Crick's 1980 biography.

! Wilson: The Authorised Life by Philip Ziegler, HarperCollins pounds 9.99. For anyone born in Britain during the first ten postwar years, Wilson was the dominant political figure of their youth. He was also an extremely frustrating phenomenon. Elected as Prime Minister in 1963 on a vote of confidence in idealism, change and youth, he proved to have almost none of those required qualities, being careful and cunning - a consummate politician with few passionate convictions. This is partly traceable to his incredible intellectual precocity, but it was also deep in his Yorkshire nature. Ziegler leaves us with a final en- comium: "his niceness ... he liked people and he wanted them to like him."

! Lost Children by Maggie Gee, Flamingo pounds 5.99. When her 16-year-old daughter does a runner, Alma decides she's had enough of playing the doormat. Out goes dull husband, in comes new job, new contacts, therapy and even sexual adventure. Certainly the men she tries to leave behind - headmaster husband and student son - seem weak, selfish, burdensome. And the absent daughter, as she grieves for her, grows in Alma's mind as a brave and assertive model. But, teetering on the brink of liberation, Alma realises the total commitment required for the role of a She Devil. This emotional comedy has quite a grip, considering that it follows a well-trodden path.

! The Burning Library: Writings on Art, Politics and Sexuality by Edmund White, Picador pounds 6.99. "All homosexuals are 'gay philosophers' in that they must invent themselves." In saying this, White also means inventing each other, because many of his essays- pre- and post-Aids - stress how gay culture and behaviour are socially produced. Editor David Bergman's introduction reminds us that White's involvement in New York's Stonewall Riots, the weekend of clashes between gays and the police in 1969, "began a sexual/social movement he has spent two decades participating in and chronicling". White's most attractive quality as a political writer is his constant probing of experience, his questioning. But there is more to this collection than pink politics: the article on his meeting with Burroughs is wonderful reporting, and the essay on Nabokov great criticism.

! Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres, Minerva pounds 6.99. Brigadier Gerard, Inspector Clouseau, Chief Dontbisilli - foreigners look even more ludicrous when they possess a title or rank to complement their grandiloquence, quaint logic and waxed moustaches. De Bernieres' books to date have shown a weakness for such thinking - Don Emmanuel, Cardinal Guzman and now Captain Corelli, where the setting is an Ionian island under occupation by the Duce's army in 1940. It is an operatic tragi-comedy, in which the affections of the doctor's daughter are torn between an uncouth local swain and the eponymous Italian officer. The book burns up a lot of creative protein and has many moments that live up to its hype, particularly in its episodes of violence. But there is also a touch of the 'Allo 'allos.

! The Making of Victorian Sexuality by Michael Mason, OUP pounds 8.99. From our viewpoint the Victorians look like an alien nation of prudes, at war with natural feeling, hooked on respecta-bility, enmeshed in all-pervasive hypo-crisy. Mason sees 19th-century sexuality as rather more complicated but prudery there certainly was, and - after the flagrant sensuality of the Georgian years - the question is, where did it come from? What sustained it? He argues that there was a sudden loss of confidence in stable sexual relationships during the first 30 years of the century. A period of renewed confidence in married sex followed, but the crisis had left its mark in a belief that sex should remain stultifyingly discreet. Ironically, it was the progressives not the reactionaries who promoted sexual control most furiously. An authoritative and fascinating study.

The Staircase III, 1994, is by Scottish artist Stephen Conroy, one of a sequence of mysterious lone male figures apparently frozen on a flight of stairs. Many of the other paintings in the handsome catalogue to his show of 'Recent Works' last month at the Marlborough Gallery, 40 West 57th Street, New York NY 10019 follow the same mood, with gentle colouring that contradicts their sense of menace

Comments