Books: PAPERBACKS

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
! De Valera: Long Fellow, Long Shadow by Tim Pat Coogan, Arrow pounds 9.99. President Mary Robinson's Euro-Ireland has recently begun a reassessment of its favourite Republican sons, and Coogan's racy, discursive biography joins the game with relish. Dev's bagging of the Pantheon's central niche places him psychologically in company with the "great dictators" of his own generation. The sentimental mush in which he embedded his national vision ("bright with cosy homesteads ... and the laughter of comely maidens") is fully exposed here. So is the political material from which the dream was fashioned the cunning ruses, censorship, bullying and moralising all reminiscent of the seminarian that Dev so nearly was.

! Mothers' Boys by Margaret Forster, Penguin pounds 6.99. Two mothers, one middle- and the other working-class, are bound unwittingly together when the latter's boy is involved in an assault the details teasingly withheld until the final pages on the son of the former. Through investigation, trial, sentence and beyond the narrative alternates between the two damaged women as their paths painfully converge. It is an apposite, delicately handled predicament, but Forster's resolution is a Dunlopillo landing after such an angst-ridden journey.

! The Oxbridge Conspiracy by Walter Ellis, Penguin pounds 6.99. As all criminal lawyers know, conspiracy raps are easy to get excited about and hard to make stick. Ellis wants to nail Oxbridge for plotting to give students not an education but "a residential course in leadership" based on genetic elitism. The circumstantial evidence about career fast-tracks and academic nest-feathering is compelling, if hardly new. But forensically acceptable facts are scarce and, sadly, when he does get something material to brandish at the jury (eg, only 12% of Oxbridge women get firsts against 20.6% of men) the prosecutor turns into a pussycat.

! The Enemy Within: The Secret War Against the Miners by Seumas Milne, Pan pounds 5.99. Milne is the Guardian's labour editor who broke the leaked story which set New Labour by the heels during this year's TUC. His angry book, first published to coincide with a Channel 4 documentary last year, suggests that Roger Windsor, former chief executive of the NUM, acted as an MI5 agent inside the union during the apocalyptic 1984-5 dispute. It further claims that the secret conspiracy continued post-strike, leading to the duping of the Cook Report and the Daily Mirror, who in 1990 unsuccessfully accused Arthur Scargill of taking Colonel Gaddafi's money. This thriller- like book proves that, in the turmoil of conflict, lies possess more vigour than the truth.

! Years of Hope: Diaries, Letters & Papers 1940-62 by Tony Benn, ed Ruth Winstone, Arrow pounds 9.99. This volume covers Benn from age 14 to 36, when he sensationally doffed his inherited peerage to stay in the Commons. The diary's purpose was to capture significant events he witnessed, and so avoid the self-serving distortions of future memory. This, he shrewdly observes, "is surely the politician's greatest weakness, if published memoirs are anything to go by." The volumes have succeeded so well that, despite their mundane style, they are rightly regarded as an essential first-hand document of post-war British history.

! Apocalypse Postponed by Umberto Eco, Flamingo pounds 6.99. Eco has been described as a gentrifier in the field of popular culture: in these essays from the past 30 years, he moves from one lowbrow cultural neighbourhood to another, his estate agent's particulars in hand, sizing up the possibilities: Peanuts cartoons, La Cicciolina, cutlery design and so on. But far from being immersed in popular culture, he seems to stand at an ironic distance from it, quoting Aristotle. The essays on political language, the future of literacy and 1984 also suggest an unexpected affinity for our own G Orwell.

! American Tabloid by James Ellroy, Arrow pounds 5.99. The Kennedy mite still burrows under the skin of literary America. This novel starts in 1959, ends at Dallas in 1963 and has Giancarna's mob, Hoover's mob and the Kennedy mob locked in a dance-to-the-death of beatings, killings and extortion. On the edge, a bunch of Cuban crazies in Miami wage vendettas, and Howard Hughes lies doped in an LA hotel suite while a dozen lookalikes lead the IRS a goose-chase. Through the eyes of three footsoldiers, a brutish power- struggle unfolds at racing speed, with no time for reflection or landscape- painting. Its achievement is to show the Kennedys as players, not passive victims, but be prepared for a violent, demanding read.

Comments