Books: Paperbacks

Younger Brother, Younger Son

by Colin Clark,

HarperCollins, pounds 7.99, 236pp

COMING FROM a man so self-effacing that this book has the ghastly phizog of brother Alan on the cover rather than his own, Colin Clark's memoirs drew accolades ("sadistic irony", "subtle revenge") on first publication. It's hard to see what the fuss was about. Clark recalls his old cars with greater feeling than his old wives and regrets failing to make a pass at Goldie Hawn. An encounter with Noel Coward produces this scintillating exchange: "I'm Colin Clark." "Oh, of course, so you are." The most revealing moment is provided by Prince Charles in 1976: "Whoever I choose as a wife is going to have a jolly hard job, always in my shadow, having to walk a few steps behind me..." Poor sap.

Visitors

by Anita Brookner,

Penguin, pounds 6.99, 236pp

THE IDEA of having a house-guest fills reclusive Fulham widow Dorothea May with horror. But when her cousin, the imperious Kitty, asks her help in organising a grand-daughter's impromptu wedding, she finds herself being bullied into providing bed and breakfast for the groom's best man. Set over the course of a hot London summer, this classic Brookner tale follows Dorothea's progress as she gradually becomes a prisoner of her own good manners, unable to enjoy the amenities of her comfortable mansion block flat for fear of offending her unwanted visitor. There are some fine Austenesque moments as the generations collide over Selfridge's canapes and coconut ices.

Staying Sane

by Dr Raj Persaud,

Metro, pounds 12.99, 478pp

ACCORDING TO this real-life Dr Frasier Crane (in his preface the author thanks TV's Richard and Judy "who pilot me through demanding live phone-ins"), the secret of good mental health is to develop "psychological hardiness" by exposing oneself to "a wide variety of life situations" and to gain tolerance by "trying to get on with lots of different people". You overcome trauma through hard work and not dwelling on the past. Persaud warns, however, that "the chase for happiness... will in all probability render depression more likely". Though his prescriptions contain much good sense aimed at steering readers away from the psychiatrist's couch, his message is somewhat diluted by the sheer size of the book.

Alba

by Rachel King,

Anchor, pounds 6.99, 331pp

ALBA IS an albino woman with a glass eye and a skin that reacts badly to nettle stings. An unfortunate condition, as her pony-tailed boyfriend lives in bucolic splendour in an isolated, tumbledown cottage and is very keen on skinny-dipping and making up potent herbal remedies. As earthy as anything penned by D H Lawrence, Rachel King's story of a middle-aged woman's first grand passion spills over with lush descriptions and witchy imaginings. Though it's a strangely eerie read - King is deliberately vague about the location and the character types - this confident first novel follows Alba as she learns to exercise her new-found power over men and nature.

Great Sporting Eccentrics

by Geoff Tibballs,

Robson, pounds 8.99, 245pp

A USEFUL reminder that sportsmen and women were not always the gum-chewing automata curently in vogue. The best of Geoff Tibballs's trawl make you laugh out loud: "Fatty" Foulke, the 25-stone goalie for Sheffield United in 1898-99, who once picked up an opposing forward and stuck him head-first into the mud ("I made a right toffee-apple out of him," Fatty chortled after conceding the resulting penalty); Aussie spinner Chuck Fleetwood- Smith (1935-38) who performed bird calls while coming into bowl and smoked cigars while fielding; and the Arbroath goalie in 1885 who spent an entire match under a brolly smoking his pipe (his team lost 36-0). What excellent role models for modern youth.

Confessions of a Philosopher

by Bryan Magee,

Phoenix, pounds 8.99, 603pp

THIS INTELLECTUAL biography should be compulsory for anyone contemplating the study of philosophy. Natural students of the discipline will be enthralled by Bryan Magee's ardent foraging in the philosophical haystack. He holds Popper to be "the outstanding philosopher" of our century,

while "discovering Kant was like discovering where I lived". In particular, he acclaims Kant's distinction between the noumenal (intuitive) and the phenomenal. It frustrates Magee "almost beyond endurance" to know so little about the noumenal. But non-philosophers will find this - and the rest of the book - less compelling.

The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco

by John Birmingham,

Flamingo, pounds 6.99, 244pp

IF THE thought of the farting and other vibratory habits of a "bisexual Singaporean-Chinese", a "hypergeek propellor-head" and a couple of "goth-medievalist crossovers", doesn't inspire you to rush to your bookshop for a copy, it's probably because you're the wrong side of Generation X, and would be much happier curled up with the latest Anita Brookner (see above). Tasmanian Babes - the sequel to He Died with a Felafel in his Hand, Australia's answer to Wayne's World - finds the roomates of York Street, Taringa Station, face down on the shag pile carpet fending off an encroaching army of very angry lesbians.

The Colour of Water,

by James McBride, Bloomsbury, pounds 6.99, 228pp

THE SON of a black Baptist minister and a night-shift typist, New York journalist James McBride was brought up to think his mother was a light-skinned black woman. In fact, she was born in Poland, raised in the deep south by an itinerant Orthodox Rabbi, and had a skin as "yeshiva pale" as unbaked dough. McBride's absorbing double biography tells his mother's intriguing history, and what it was like being related to the only white woman to travel the New York subway after hours. A rousing ending includes a mother-son bonding trip to small-town Virginia, and a roll-call of the achievements of Mrs McBride's twelve college-educated children.

The Complete Stories

by Bernard Malamud,

Vintage, pounds 9.99, 632pp

THIS LUMINOUS collection reminds us that Malamud was a writer of the highest calibre. A magical realist avant la lettre, his terse fables are mainly set among the shabby tenements of New York. In one amazing yarn, a teacher invests in a silver crown to save his dying father. Though it's a scam, he finds that his deepest wish is horrifyingly granted. In "The Magic Barrel", a marriage broker mysteriously coaxes a rabbi towards redemption. The unlikely celestial hero of "Angel Levine" turns out to be a black man with a liking for drink. Malamud's magic is all the more potent for the mundanity of its setting.

Hard Copy

by Emma Lee-Potter, Piatkus, pounds 5.99, 307pp

DAUGHTER OF Lynda and sister of Charlie, media babe Emma Lee-Potter kicks off her first novel in a familial vein. Anna Armitage is a young and pretty photojournalist. Having scooped some shots of two super-models in a lesbian embrace, she rushes over to her journalist boyfriend's flat, only to find him in flagrante with her blonde-bobbed mother. The experience leaves her an older and wiser hackette, and prompts her to join forces with tabloid old-timer Sam Turner, to unearth government conspiracies and set the world to rights. A better read than Nicholas Coleridge's expose of the world of glossy magazines, Lee Potter knows how to keep things moving.

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