Books: Paperbacks

Christopher Wood: An English Painter by Richard Ingleby, Alison & Busby pounds 14.99. When talented artists die young, there is often little to add to ritual expressions of frustrated promise. But Christopher Wood's demise in 1930 at 29, when he fell under a train at Salisbury station, was sufficiently odd for his friends Ben and Winifred Nicholson to commission a detective agency's investigation. Wood's short life was marked by a number of bisexual affairs, drug addiction, money worries and the demands of a doting mother. Anthony Powell, who knew Wood, called him a typical figure of the 1920s: looked and dressed like the Prince of Wales, eloped with a Guinness heiress, smoked opium with Jean Cocteau and knew Picasso. Ingleby's well-balanced biography gives as full account as possible of Wood's death and makes a committed but not excessive case for him as a painter. The colour illustrations (see above) show clearly that he had, as well as the influence of Van Gogh, Picasso and Matisse, a distinctive vision and technique of his own.

English Settlement by D J Taylor, Vintage pounds 6.99. Publishers like to be able to blurb their literary titles as thrillers but the snail-crawl plot of this one, extra-modishly tagged a "financial thriller", surely falls foul of the Trade Descriptions Act. Fiction can always thrill by its piercing wit and startling characterisation, but Taylor falls short here too. Aiming to cut a section through London at the moment when Thatcher passed the baton to Major, it is narrated by Scott Marshall, a freebooting American management consultant. As he researches a makeover for a porn-king's Fourth Division football club, Scott passes page after page after page of judgement on the English - their class hang-ups, sexual repressions, hypocrisy and perfidy. The satire is predictable, the voice and vocabulary unbelievable. Words like "otiose", "transpires" and "inchoate" are as anglo as a St Michael label, and if they really tripped this easily off young Scott's tongue, he'd be no rhinestone-cowboy accountant.

A User's Guide to the Millennium: Essays & Reviews by J G Ballard, Flamingo pounds 6.99. This collection shows Ballard's engagement with films, visual art, comic books, sex, sf, war - he has little apparent interest in theatre, music and poetry. J G is an expert at creative referencing: Warhol, "the Disney of the amphetamine age"; Hockney, a 20th-century Alma-Tadema; Naked Lunch "the Lenny Bruce Show rewritten by Dr Goebbels ..." I admire, too, the witty imagery: Hockney's photo collages like looking "through the eyes of a concussed bumblebee" and William Burroughs "a hit-man for the Apocalypse". Like any good reviewer he pinpoints the telling detail - in a biography of Presley noting that Elvis was a natural blond; of Dali that he once delivered a lecture in a diving suit; and, in a review of Mein Kampf, that alongside fussy old Chamberlain and Petain, Hitler still seems a modern figure: "The psycho- path never dates." But the most satisfying, poised and moving piece was written for the 50th VJ Day anniversary, in which Ballard returns to the Shanghai internment camp where much of his boyhood was spent.

The Heart of India by Mark Tully, Penguin pounds 6.99. For 30 years we listened to Mark Tully's voice reporting on the affairs of his native India on BBC Radio. Tully was able to evoke a petty village incident in a remote province or a disaster of Bhopal proportions with equal authority and in remarkably concise terms. In this collection of nine pieces he is concerned with the former of these two aspects of the sub-continent. Originally conceived as reportage, Tully eventually decided to fictionalise his stories of the little and unconsidered peoples of India. They are very good stories, too, often with the sly, ironic humour of folk tales. One concerns the agonies of a farmer's barren wife; another the confusion that education can bring to young women; a third the rivalry of two Untouchable brothers; a fourth a revenge killing. As the title implies, Tully is saying - and Gandhi would have agreed - "here, among the poor, is the vital centre of my country". And you can believe him, partly because you discern that calm, engaged voice coming through the prose.

Rajiv Gandhi and Rama's Kingdom by Ved Mehta, Yale pounds 9.95. By coincidence, Mark Tully is not the only veteran reporter of the Indian scene to have a collection out in paperback. These New Yorker-length news essays, less down-home than Tully, concentrate largely on the soap opera of New Delhi's high politics, the ins and outs of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty which ruled independent India for most of the first 40 years of its existence. A continental empire, ruthlessly centralised on Delhi, India is like the Soviet Union in many respects (Mehta even has an essay entitled "Rajiv's Perestroika") but there are also aspects that resemble the Mogul courts of old, not least in the combination of pride and corruption displayed by the ruling elite, which Mehta actually calls a democratic monarchy. He is an extremely readable commentator, whether telling the story of Mrs Gandhi's falling out with her daughter-in-law, the rise of Rajiv, the assassinations of two Gandhis or the very different destructions of the Bhopal chemical factory and the Ayodhyah mosque. Invisible Crying Tree by Tom Shannon and Christopher Morgan, Black Swan pounds 6.99. These letters between Morgan, a farmer, and Shannon, serving life for murder, resulted from a penfriend scheme that aimed to give lifers a "window on the world". It opens a window for us into prison life - the cardphone economy, the drugs and hooch, the everyday anxieties and priorities which circumscribe and fill a prisoner's days and nights. Read this book and you will never again think that life inside is null. Prison is a place of constant tension, with the need to be always alert to the many dangers and opportunities which hourly present themselves to the body or the mind. Shannon's letters, convincingly authentic, are therefore priceless documents of life under sentence of life, as eloquent in their own unassuming, misspelt, illiterate way as Oscar Wilde himself.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test