Jack: a life of C S Lewis by George Sayer (Hodder, pounds 8.99) Written by a friend of Lewis, the admiring tone of this dogged portrait is punctuated by the odd, startling indiscretion: "It was here [public school] that he began to masturbate, a practise that continued for years afterwards." The life of this tweedy academic was scarcely adventure-packed - though Sayer once saw him deliberately misdirect a fox hunt. The plodding humour of the Inklings is particularly hard to take. In a new introduction, Sayer savages A N Wilson's recent "utterly destructive" biography of Lewis.
The Dancer Upstairs by Nicholas Shakespeare (Picador, pounds 6.99) Looking for a scoop to end his stint in South America, English journo John Dyer has the good fortune to bump into Colonel Rejas - the man who has devoted his life to the capture of the notorious Peruvian guerilla leader, President Ezequiel. Over breadsticks and cold beer Rejas tells his story. Like most novels set in South America, the politics get a little confusing, but happily Shakespeare is better on taciturn waiters and depressed husbands than the perpetrators of Andean atrocities. The sequel to The Vision of Elena Silves.
The Oxford Dictionary of Local and Family History by David Hey (pounds 5.99) Aimed at the amateur historian, this eclectic trawl is a peculiar assortment of the recondite and the mundane. Prompting memories of 1066 and All That, the book draws together such archaic terms as "scutage" (fee in lieu of military service), "jagger" (pack-horse man) and "wapentake" (Danelaw taxation district). It is interesting to learn that "gore" is a "triangular piece of land", but the value of entries for "potato" or "postcard" is less certain.
Mister Sandman by Barbara Gowdy (Flamingo, pounds 5.99) Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields and Alice Munro look like maiden aunts when compared with Barbara Gowdy, Canada's latest unruly export. Her second novel introduces the Canary sisters, Joan (she lives in a cupboard), Marcy (she fancies the babysitter) and Sonja (she's really Joan's mother), not to mention their equally interesting parents - Doris and Gordon, both in the throes of homosexual affairs.
An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison (Picador, pounds 7.99) "Within three months of becoming a professor [of psychiatry], I was a raving psychotic." This insider's view of manic depression is written with crystalline clarity. Despite her professional success, Jamison's life has been filled with torments, her frenetic highs matched by suicidal depressions. Lithium provided a partial escape from this vicious cycle but, she adds, "love is ... ultimately more extraordinary." While insisting that "depression is awful beyond words", Jamison finds some merit in her madness.