BOOKS: PAPERBACKS

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! Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids by Kenzaburo Oe, Picador pounds 5.99. Hardly known here when he won the 1994 Nobel Prize, Oe's work has been slow to appear in translation. This, his first full-length novel, was published in 1958 and shows him, at 23, already dealing in universals. The story invites comparison with Lord of the Flies: a group of reform- school evacuees abandoned in wartime to fend for themselves by the inhabitants of a remote plague-village. In fact it is even starker and more schematic, with only slight delineation of character and motive. Golding's boys must choose or reject the savage within themselves but Oe's are never beastly, however basic their mentalities. Malevolence resides in the cowardice and ignorance of the adults who abandon the boys and then return to brutalise them.

! Conan Doyle by Michael Coren, Bloomsbury pounds 7.99. History has done Conan Doyle wrong, apparently: in Coren's inelegant phaseology, his "personality has been partly lost because of the exponential growth of the fictional character he created". Conan Doyle was many more things than the creator of Sherlock Holmes. He was by far the most commercially successful writer of his age. He was also doctor, spiritualist, adventurer, investigator of injustice, women's suffragist, divorce reformer and parliamentary candidate. A vast cache of Conan Doyle's papers lie sealed in Switzerland and until it is opened there will be no definitive biography. Meanwhile, Coren's enthusiastic essay is a perfectly sound but rather thin restatement of the known facts.

! Declares Pereira by Antonio Tabucchi, trs Patrick Creagh, Panther pounds 5.99. Tabucchi, one of Italy's trendiest literary novelists, has a look of James Joyce about him, and his ponderous hero Dr Pereira - middle-aged, celibate, and haunted by a sense that something is missing from his life - bears more than a passing resemblance to Leopold Bloom, even to the extent that he "adopts" and helps a young man. Set in Lisbon in 1938, this is a reprise of the 1930s novel-as-ideological-dilemma. When his young protege challenges him to abandon his place on the fence and commit himself to the anti-Salazar cause, he is hesitant, yet knows that his usual sources of comfort - hypochondria, 19th-century French literature and the framed photograph of his dead wife - cannot ultimately answer his feeling of uselessness.

! A Genius for War: A Life of General George S Patton by Carlo d'Este, HarperCollins pounds 9.99. Is this a better title than Patton: Lust For Glory, the powerful 1969 biopic starring George C Scott? In d'Este's own words, Patton had always "strived, prayed and hoped God and Lady Luck would grant him a hero's death". (In fact he was killed in a road accident in 1945, with the Allies on the point of victory.) But was this a military genius? An "obstreperous, fighting, cantankerous bastard - and proud of it" (according to a comrade), Patton had an overmastering belief in destiny. He was certain he'd lived before, and had particularly strong memories of Napoleon's Russian campaign. One view is that he was a great tank tactician but no strategist; another that he never understood the life of a lowly GI. D'Este is an admirer, but his long, fascinating book is inconclusive on the question.

! The Music by James Hamilton-Paterson, Vintage pounds 5.99. The title-story of this collection has a supermarket customer who, as he stands glumly in line, suspects the store's muzak of hypnotising the customers. He thinks: "Everything of interest is elsewhere; we are here." Hamilton-Paterson's collection has had high praise, yet I confess I occasionally found myself entertaining the same thought as I read it. The stories are agreeably diverse in location (the Philippines, Libya, a People's Republic in East Europe), narrative voice (a lesbian pianist, a child, an Anthony Burgess- like writer) and subject (sexual strangulation, a family picnic, the crucifixion). Yet they seem to me over-concerned with pathos and formal perfection at the expense of riveting the attention.

! The Letters of Dorothy L Sayers 1899-1936 edited by Barbara Reynolds, Sceptre pounds 7.99. French and Saunders perform a memorable pair of tweedy women who dismiss even the worst pain or injury (not excluding decapitation) as a case of stuff and nonsense, and at times Dorothy L Sayers could seem a bit like this. She was in fact a very complex, secretive personality and bore some similarities to Conan Doyle - like him, she ditched her towering detective hero in mid-life to follow more spiritual paths. The present volume ends at this juncture, as DLS sets out to become a Christian apologist (in Reynolds's view, "one of the outstanding lay theologians of her time"). Her letters are the vigorous outpourings of a strong personality, well able to conceal private unhappiness under a forthright intellect and a show of bluff insouciance.

! The Chronology of World History: 10,000 BC-1994 AD by H E L Mellersh, Neville Williams et al, Helicon pounds 14.99. This is a reduction of one of the most remarkable four-decker reference books in English. It lists the political, cultural and scientific events and developments in each period - by millennium and century and then, from the Classical age, by year and (latterly) by month. Although it can't aspire to the amazing wealth of detail lodged in the heavyweight originals, this handy abridged volume is a very useful resource.

The arrival of the desktop computer caused an explosion of small design companies and independent producers of books, magazines and music. As a result, says Ellen Lupton, `no single aesthetic approach' defines this era. With copious illustrations, Mixing Messages: Contemporary Graphic Design in America (Thames and Hudson pounds 18.95) examines the issues shaping the future of the medium. Above: Paula Scher's `Some People' (1994), a silkscreen poster for the Public Theatre of New York

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