Books Paperbacks: The possessor of the thunderbox

Sword of Honour by Evelyn Waugh Penguin pounds 12.99

This is Waugh's finest novel, according to Angus Calder in the introduction, and for my money he's quite right: much funnier than Brideshead Revisited, and showing a depth of compassion pretty well absent from most of his work. Guy Crouchback, scion of an old English Catholic family, is a disappointed man, living in exile in Italy. The outbreak of war in 1939 restores to him hope and purpose; he returns home to enlist in this crusade against tyranny and finds in the Royal Corps of Halberdiers a sense of belonging he has never had. The novel follows the stripping away of Guy's illusions, as war descends from farce into shambles and (in Guy's eyes) betrayal. Along the way, he encounters such grotesque comic figures as Apthorpe, an old Africa hand and proud possessor of the "thunderbox", Brigadier Ritchie-Hook, a soldier of legendary courage, who enjoys taking the heads of enemy soldiers as trophies, and Trimmer, hairdresser turned reluctant war hero.

As Calder details, Crouchback's military career shadows his creator's, through the shambolic evacuation of Crete and on to liaison with Tito's partisans in Yugoslavia. But while Waugh was an appalling officer, peremptory and unpopular (his commanding officer was advised that if Waugh ever led troops into battle they would likely take the opportunity to shoot him), Guy is diligent, modest and, so far as his aloof nature will permit, kindly.

In its encounter between tradition and honour on the one hand, and modern pragmatism on the other, Sword of Honour is first cousin to The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp; but where Powell and Pressburger's film accepts pragmatism as victory's price, Waugh is more ambivalent. That's largely, of course, because he sees everything sub specie aeternitatis. The Catholicism seems more prominent in this edition than before - this is Waugh's revised, one-volume version of his original trilogy. Hence the otherwise puzzling claim on the back cover that this is the "first paperback edition" (the trilogy has been available bound as one volume for years). So even if you know the book already, this is different enough to warrant a second look, and worth buying for the intro and notes (not to mention the cover - an Abram Games recruiting poster which represents everything Waugh despised about the conduct of the war). If you don't know it - well, it is Waugh's best book; that ought to be enough.

Cries Unheard

by Gitta Sereny

Macmillan pounds 8

The first thing to say about Sereny's account of Mary Bell's life is that, of course, she's absolutely right: the readiness of the courts, the media, the public to judge a woman for actions, however monstrous, committed when she was 11 is disgusting. So why is this such an offputting book? The answer lies in Sereny's vast self-importance - she's forever obtruding her views, her judgements on the other people in the story, her relationship with Mary Bell. Too convinced of her moral expertise, she asserts rather than argues. The result is a wasted opportunity, not worth the controversy it aroused.

The Life of Insects

by Victor Pelevin

Faber pounds 6.99

A barking-mad fantasy by a much-fancied young Russian novelist, set in a Crimea populated by creatures who are both human and insect - they watch films, read books, fall in love. But they also eat each other, push great balls of dung around, get trapped on flypaper. The symbolism sounds coarse, but Pelevin endows it with a paradoxical, curly logic that stops it ever settling into obviousness.

Adventures in Wonderland: A Decade of Club Culture

by Sheryl Garratt

Headline pounds 7.99

The former editor of The Face offers a history of the rave scene, from its beginnings deep in the mists of time (ie, New York's gay disco scene in the 1970s) to the present. Garratt is fine on the prehistory - the development of house in Chicago, techno in Detroit - and her pictures of the frantic, sweaty pleasures are evocative, despite the fact that she wasn't there. Oddly, when the scene shifts to the other side of the Atlantic, to London, Manchester and Ibiza, she's much less convincing - good on narrative, but lousy on atmosphere - and it's wrapped up in off-putting pop-journo cliches (too many "soaring" vocals and "stomping" beats).

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own