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INSHALLAH by Oriana Fallaci, Chatto, pounds 15.99

Oriana Fallaci, the veteran Italian journalist who won fame and acclaim for her fearless reportage on various killing fields from Vietnam to the Indo-Pakistan war, now weighs in with an 800-page novel set in Beirut. Sadly she has abandoned journalistic immediacy in favour of a mock-epic style that strains for effect. With a labyrinthine plot and a cast of hundreds (many of them corpses), the novel relies on archetypes rather than characters; its favourite punctuation mark is the ]?]; and although the rhetoric might be chock-full of terror, madness and grief, very few pages are particular enough to become poignant.


Ed. A N Wilson, pounds 17.50

First the bad news. This anthology is too heavy to read on the train or bus. It is a little too full of the kinds of people who use verbs like 'to motor' (as in: 'we motored to Walsingham'), and it's far too expensive. But the good news is that it's enormous fun, packed full of caustic, amusing, and sometimes very serious anecdotes about the Church and its clergymen, together with some superb spiritual writings. A N Wilson is to the Church of England what Simon Callow is to the theatre: the result is a great book for people who can't remember jokes, but like to have them to hand. Don't miss Barbara Pym on Michael Ramsay: 'The new Archbishop of Canterbury has a lovely lap for a cat'; and Malcolm Muggeridge on Bishop Barnes: 'Clergymen, in my experience, tend to get holier and holier-looking as they move farther and farther away from their faith . . . It must be some kind of inner adjustment mechanics, like a thermostat.'

CLOSE TO THE BONE by David Wiltse, Sinclair-Stevenson, pounds 14.99

A prime example of the One-Man Killing Machine sub-genre. Both hero and villain are OMKMs, which seems excessive; Becker, the FBI man, agonises endlessly about how he's just as bad as his prey: 'I become worse than he ever was.' But Bahoud, the international assassin sent to New York to kill Yasser Arafat, just gets on with the job, leaving a trail of corpses behind him. He pauses only to dally with the crippled virgin sister of the lunatic fringe Zionist fall-guy. She, understandably impressed by his habit of standing naked outside her bedroom door peering through a telescope at the United Nations building, decides that he is the One- Man Killing Machine for her. A brisk and efficient piece of mayhem requiring complete suspension of disbelief; best not to think about it too hard.