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FEMMES DE SIECLE, Edited by Joan Smith, Chatto, pounds 11.99

Even the witty title can't hide the fact that this is another of those bits-and-pieces anthologies bound together by an editorial whim and a prayer. Women writers from the 1890s have been teamed up with their great great granddaughters to consider 'the arena of gender'. The editor has thrown an enticing light on some 100-year-old stories - indeed the book might have done better had it been willing to be merely historical. Some of the Victoriana is eye-catching and absorbing - Charlotte Mew contributes an especially atmospheric piece, but plenty is awful - 'He swallowed a hurried and innutritious meal, with Loetitia's tears salting every dish, and Minnie's reiterations ringing dirges in his ears.' And even the very good modern work - Helen Simpson, Emily Prager and Shena Mackay, for instance - is bound to sit oddly in a draughty collection which, as the introduction itself declares, 'was never an attempt to be representative, and is certainly not definitive.' That about sums it up.

LOITERING WITH INTENT by Peter O'Toole, Macmillan, pounds 14.99

Loitering with intent to what, that is the question. Early on we find O'Toole 'heading for the Moo Cow milk bar'; later, it turns out he plans to assassinate Adolf Hitler, 'that profoundly strange, mincing little dude from Linz'. After a spell of National Service he is granted his wish and enters RADA. In most ways this is an intense and lyrical memoir of the actor's early life, but it does contain the following sentence: 'By the time I had bidden au revoir to the Principal, was heading, as instructed, for the registrar and the secretary to have my particulars taken, the fact of Friday, of an audition to be given in less than two days, of a real chance to become a drama student, had set my mental meter ticking and made my mouth as dry as cork.' O'Toole's characteristic wheeling, staggering style has its good moments, to be sure - but some of the other as well.

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