by John Sutherland
Oxford pounds 4.99
Sutherland truffles up another selection of ambiguities, gaffes and loopholes from the classics of Eng Lit. This time he takes his cue from readers of the first three books (Is Heathcliff a Murderer? , Can Jane Eyre Be Happy? and Where was Rebecca Shot?), who have offered solutions to some of his earlier conundrums and spotted a few more peculiarities on their own account. Among the problems tackled: how did Sidney Carton get hold of chloroform 60 years before it was discovered? What was Betsey Trotwood's marital status? And what happened to Jim's enslaved family in Huckleberry Finn? Sometimes Sutherland illuminates genuine problems, or shows how dark deeds can hide behind the primmest Victorian prose (there seems to be quite a lot of rape going on); sometimes he shows how a little historical context can resolve apparent oddities. More often it sinks into pedantry, but still teaches an important lesson: that great writers can get away with lousy plotting.
by Marilyn Bowering
Flamingo pounds 6.99
Magic realism from Canada, where you don't usually look for it - the travels of two twins from Winnipeg, whose travels take them through Nazi Germany and the Korean War to Siberia; and the parallel journey of a Russian woman explorer, skiing to freedom across the polar ice-cap. The magic parts feel a bit intrusive, but Bowering's plain prose and knack for incongruities make it a gripper, well worth its Orange Prize shortlisting.
Heavy Water and Other Stories
by Martin Amis
Vintage pounds 6.99
Worth buying if only for the opening story, 1992's "Career Move": set in an inverted world where impoverished screenwriters publish their work in shabby, virtually unread magazines, while poets move to Los Angeles where they sip expensively pure beverages and toss around astronomical figures for domestic gross on their latest eclogues. Nothing else in here is so funny, though most of them have a sombre, sometimes rather dislikeable virtuosity; and in a couple that's combined with the vulnerability, the willingness to admit when something hurts.
I Shall Bear Witness: the Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1933-1941
trans Martin Chalmers
Phoenix pounds 8.99
Because he was a war veteran, and because he was married to a gentile, Klemperer managed to survive Hitler's persecution of the Jews, just - he had been ordered to report for deportation when the firebombing of Dresden in February 1945 gave him and his wife the chance to flee. So his diaries are the most complete extant record of what it was like to be a Jew in Nazi Germany. They show how the grinding, demoralising nonsense of Nazism, the routine of insecurity and mistrust, infected German society; they also record small acts of kindness from ordinary Germans. It is fascinating insight into life under tyranny; but also a moving testament to one individual's ability to maintain at least a private allegiance to truth and reason.
The German-Jewish Dialogue
ed Ritchie Robertson
Oxford pounds 7.99
A companion volume to the Klemperer: 240 years of puzzling over "the Jewish question" from both sides. There are some big names in world literature here: the Brothers Grimm (with a nasty piece of casual folk-anti-Semitism), Heinrich Heine, Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, Stefan Zweig, Joseph Roth, Paul Celan ... But also some powerful stuff from writers whose reputation is more specifically Jewish - eloquent Enlightenment reasoning from Moses Mendelssohn, a brief Zionist autobiography by Theodor Herzl, Zionism tinged with Expressionism in the diaries of Gershon Scholem.