Sutherland notes that the most celebrated faux-pas in modern writing - the impossibility of using Piggy's specs to create a fire - is not the only improbability in Lord of the Flies. "How did all those children survive and not a single adult?" Dismissing Chandler's telegraphic shrug ("NO IDEA") when William Faulkner asked who killed a chauffeur called Owen Taylor in The Big Sleep, he offers his own solution: "After Taylor was sapped and Brody had left the scene, one of Mars's heavies took the unconscious Taylor down to the coast in the Buick (followed by a second henchman) and staged the `suicide'." All clear now?
Rarely, the keen-eyed Sutherland comes unstuck in making the suggestion that the book's villain Colleoni could have been "the inspiration, in name at least, for Mario Puzo's `Godfather', Don Corleone." He points out that "Corleone is a variant of Coeur de Lion," but fails to remark that it is also the name of a real Mafia stronghold in Sicily.
Explaining "Why I hate critics," Julian Barnes's narrator in Flaubert's Parrot cites Enid Starkie's observation that Emma Bovary's eyes change from blue to brown to black. You can see why a novelist might object to this but, for the rest of us, Sutherland is so amusing and engaged that he transforms nit-picking into an art-form. CH
by Jeremy Paxman
Penguin, pounds 7.99, 309pp
A FAMOUS name on a sure-fire topic would be a bestseller even if it were a pot-boiler. Fortunately, readers are well-served by this intelligent, enthralling portrait. The stroppy author revels in quirky examples of Englishness, ranging from Simon Raven to the sale of 25 wives (prices from 25 guineas to 1d plus dinner) in 1884. After savaging Major's Baldwinesque speech about "warm beer and old maids", he foresees a new nationalism, "modest, solipsistic, ironic". But why so little on food and nothing on supermarkets?
by Amit Chaudhuri
Picador, pounds 6.99, 198pp
MIDDLE-CLASS life in Calcutta comes under scrutiny in Chaudhuri's third novel. Set over a couple of months, this family saga relates the personal and public history of Khuku and her husband Shib (a couple in their sixties) and the various members of their extended family. Writing a set of intimate vignettes that hop decades and moods, Chaudhuri writes as compellingly about walking to work as growing old. A rare novel about the subcontinent that leaves you feeling it's a more familiar place than you might have imagined.
The Course of My Life
by Edward Heath
Coronet, pounds 9.99, 767pp
FUNNIER AND less starchy than his public persona, Heath has produced the most readable memoir of any modern PM. The authentic voice of Ted can be heard querying the bill from the MoD for a Prime Ministerial dinner aboard HMS Intrepid in 1971 (it included the cost of a rehearsal with the same food and wine). But he is sadly restrained in his critique of Lady T. Whether visiting Germany in 1939 or winning the Admiral's Cup while PM, Heath emerges as surprising and gutsy.
by Daniel Menaker
Faber, pounds 6.99, 269pp
AS YOU'd expect from a former fiction editor of the New Yorker, Menaker's novel bristles with therapy room friction and intellectual sparring. Jake Singer is a teacher at one of the city's posher private schools. Rejected by his girlfriend, he starts a course of psychoanalysis with Dr Morales, a Cuban Catholic Freudian who regularly roasts his patients "on the spit of his own prurience". The client/therapist dialogue gets ever more fascinating as Jake swaps Morales's couch for the bed of a Sag Harbor socialite.