Books: Paperbacks

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The Independent Culture
Quartered Safe Out Here by George MacDonald Fraser, Harvill pounds 7.99. Plaudits from critics and ex-soldiers alike greeted this personal memoir of old-fashioned war at the sharp end, in the bloody turmoil of the Burma campaign. It brings into play all the story-telling ability of Flashman's creator, together with suspense and peppery Cumberland dialogue as well as an acute sense of danger and a sparkling sense of the absurd.

Sleepwalker in a Fog by Tatyana Tolstaya, Penguin pounds 5.99. This second collection of stories pivots on the collision of the old and new Russias, evoking the lost and dreamy past in language that is both lush and piercing, while insinuating all the time the bruising realities of the present. Tolstaya's elegantly restrained surrealism always puts a spin on even the most domestic dramas; hers is a miniaturism that cunningly reflects a wider world.

The Macmillans by Richard Davenport- Hines, Mandarin pounds 6.99. The family's rapid rise from a crofter's cottage on the Isle of Arran to Eton, Oxford and London is a remarkable Victorian success story. This would-be group biography prefers to concentrate on a later chip off the dynastic block: Harold, whose achievement of the premiership is viewed, Freudianly, as the expression of his 'false self', the true self having been destroyed by an emotionally harsh upbringing. Sharp, provocative and unauthorised - Lord Stockton, it's admitted in the preface, thoroughly disapproves.

Who Was That Man? by Neil Bartlett, Penguin pounds 6.99. An investigation into the life of Oscar Wilde, or perhaps a rambling dialogue with Wilde, who serves as a springboard for this inquiry into homosexual life in Britain in the last 100 years. Historical documents, quotations, pictures, memories and musings, legal reports, furious questionings of the reader and tender reminiscences of gay men's clandestine past are all jumbled together in an exhilarating, sometimes irritating, melange that makes us re- think the social history of a whole period.

Minotaur: Poetry and the Nation State by Tom Paulin, Faber pounds 8.99. Intelligent polemic is now nearly as rare as close textual reading. Paulin's gift for both of these, his almost sensual relish for ideas, is what makes him, at best, our most stimulating critic. This collection of essays - from Christina Rossetti and Emily Dickinson to Lawrence, Larkin and Hughes - is unfailingly passionate and provocative.

Hayfever: The Complete Guide by Dr Jonathan Brostoff and Linda Gamlin, Bloomsbury pounds 9.99. All you ever wanted to know about hay fever but were too snuffly to ask: what causes it (the sex life of plants), when it began (the term began to be used in the 1820s), why it's got worse (genetic change? exhaust fumes? the stress of modernity?), above all how to treat it: the useful appendices list products, drugs (and alternatives to drugs), and addresses.

What the Traveller Saw by Eric Newby, Flamingo pounds 6.99. Anyone who enjoys puns in names will be delighted that this book is dedicated 'To Wanda - as always', for, as always, Newby's wanders have yielded a rich harvest - this collection spans four decades and dozens of countries. Newby is capable of writing a sentence that lasts a paragraph and ends with a question-mark, but his whimsical wit excuses it all. Fine photographs make this excellent value; Newby's introductory remarks are nostalgic about Box Brownies and fulsome about f-stops.