Books: Paperbacks

Robert Graves: Life on the Edge by Miranda Seymour (Doubleday, pounds 9.99) And, indeed, over the edge. When his batty muse Laura Riding jumped from an upper story window in Hammersmith ("Goodbye, chaps"), Graves followed her - though he prudently descended to the floor below before taking flight. Long obsessed by this under-regarded love poet, whose works inspired two of her novels, Seymour has produced a thrilling biography. But what an odd mix he was. While brilliant, scholarly and hard-working (he dismissed his 15 novels as "pot-boilers"), Graves neglected his children and was infatuated by a series of young "muses" who infested his Mallorcan redoubt. His bizarre fixation with the "White Goddess" does not bode well for the revival of his poetic reputation, despite Seymour's admirable effort.

Kitchen Venom by Philip Hensher (Penguin, pounds 6.99) This dream-like, vitriolic novel probes the mysterious figures who operate the mechanisms of parliament. At its heart is John, a senior House of Commons clerk, whom Hensher rather overburdens with varied characteristics: he is newly widowed, a closet gay, a hunchback and, eventually, a murderer. John's bickering daughters, bland Francesca and boozy Jane, dally with his colleagues. Over all looms the giant, doomed figure of Margaret Thatcher. A stunningly accomplished work, this roman a clef cost Hensher his job at the House.

A Moment's Liberty: the shorter diary by Virginia Woolf (Pimlico, pounds 15) "How it would interest me if this diary were ever to become a real diary: but then I should have to speak of the soul...". Thank goodness, she never did. In his Introduction, Quentin Bell remarks that Woolf's "sometimes formidable" novels are indifferent to the "humdrum facts of everyday life", while in her diaries she does not refrain from noting "the price of eggs". This miracle of compression (five volumes into one) reveals Woolf dipping her pen in acid. Ulysses reminds her of "a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples" while Vivien Eliot is "biting, wriggling, raving, scratching, unwholesome, powdered, insane...". By summer 1940, her mood darkens unbearably: "I can't conceive there will be a 27th June 1941". There wasn't for her, poor thing.

The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie (Mandarin, pounds 5.99) "A work of comic genius" declares Time Out on the cover, but Laurie's first novel is neither comic - unless you split your sides at the description of over-watered whisky as "Vaguely Familiar Grouse" - nor is it remotely a work of genius. In fact, it is a bog-standard, testosterone-fuelled boy's thriller, heavy on the weapons technology ("Hydra 70mm rockets, Hellfire air-to-ground missiles, 50 machine guns. This was a big toy for big boys") but unexpectedly light on sex. Somewhere beneath the shoot-outs, there's a chiffon-like plot about the arms trade. Laurie has the nerve to use a Wilde quotation for one of his chapter headings: "There is no sin except stupidity." Quite.

Children of England by Alison Weir (Pimlico, pounds 8.99) With impressive narrative skill, Alison Weir pilots her readers through the ceaseless tides of intrigue which surged around the four heirs of King Henry VIII. Her mastery of detail brings their tempestuous lives into sharp focus from a distance of four centuries: the arsenic administered to the teenage King Edward VI, not to kill him, but to prolong his death agonies for political reasons; the blindfold figure of Lady Jane Grey groping for the chopping block ("Where is it?") on the scaffold; the last act of Queen Mary, on her death bed, signing a warrant for the burning of two heretics; Princess Elizabeth planting herself in a wet street when en route to prison: "It is better sitting here than in a worse place." This is full-blooded history.

Ash on an Old Man's Sleeve by Francis King (Allison & Busby, pounds 8.99) The ash in the title is more exotic than it sounds. Elliott Baker, a retired civil servant, surprises himself by buying cocaine on the first night of his visit to Cuba and is transformed: "Within me, a machine, long since unused, had come to life at the touch of a switch." Amid the decaying grandeur of Old Havana, he falls for a young policeman called Enaes, but finds it hard to tell whether he receives politeness or lust in response. Funded by Elliott's dollars, they embark on a series of adventures, culminating in a religious spectacle which is said to presage the death of Castro. In the aftermath, Enaes disappears. King's spell-binding tale expertly blends dislocation and strange magic.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone