PAPERBACKS

Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels, Bloomsbury, pounds 6.99. The Canadian poet, Anne Michaels, won last year's Orange Prize with Fugitive Pieces which was a bestseller wherever it was published, and was greeted with the highest critical acclaim. It is an extraordinarily accomplished first novel, that is at once intensely personal, well-researched and profound. It centres on Jakob Beer, a young Jewish boy rescued from the ruins of Poland during the Second World War by Athos, a Greek geologist who takes the boy back to his island where he tries to rebuild his life. Jakob's family vanished in the ghettoes, but their ghosts make sudden appearances that leave him feeling as though he is constantly chasing shadows. Years later, he becomes a famous poet (words offer "an alphabet without memory", and so a relief from the pain of his childhood), and a young student, Ben, decides to research his life. He himself is the offspring of Holocaust survivors, and finds echoes of his own past in Jakob's. The layers of prose are as richly detailed as the rocks Athos studies, and Michaels's poetic gifts are given full flight - each page is studded with metaphors offering piercing insight into the workings of time and memory. In a sense, Michaels is a better poet than novelist - moments of intense recognition, refrains, reprises and counterpoints do not help Jakob's story to be told, and sometimes there is a repetitiveness in the two main protagonists' experience of life. But the cumulative effect is that of a symphony of grief, exile and longing.

Freudian Tales: About Imagined Men, Janet Sayers, Vintage, pounds 7.99. Janet Sayers is Professor of Psychoanalytic Psychology at the University of Kent, and has gathered together 15 case studies that provide instances of the damage done to both sexes by our notions of masculinity. She also attempts to redress the balance of "mother-centred" psychoanalytic theory, citing Melanie Klein as responsible for driving the father out of the oedipal drama. In their place, she argues, we construct fantasies of "epic male figures", one of which is the "Pervert" whom she envisions as Mr Benn of the children's TV series, "who fetishistically looks to the shopkeeper of a fancy-dress store to equip him with a variety of heroic garbs to cover up his felt lack of manliness". Although Sayers burdens her thesis, and patronises her readers, with ill-chosen illustrations from the world of popular culture, this is a serious attempt to continue Freud's project of exposing the "shortfall between our defensive, pleasure driven dreams and reality". As such, she urges us to move out of "patriarchal heaven", and back into therapy.

Blow Job, Stewart Home, Serpent's Tail. Paperback original, pounds 7.99. Skinhead author Stewart Home writes under the influence of the 1970s cult writer Richard "Suedehead" Allen. Hard-nuts with names like "Bogroll Bates" and "Jackboots Houghton" populate his highly politicised writing and spout reams of fascist anarchist drivel in a laboured attempt at satirising their position. Home's latest novel takes up the theme of urban sub- culture engaging in State-manufactured, internecine violence. Steve Drummond, the anarchist leader of "Class Justice", finds himself drawn into a conflict between a crew of renegade anarchists and the "Anglo-Saxon Movement". Other groups - the "White Seed of Christ," the "Spartacist Workers Group" to name but two - join in the fray just to complicate matters. The tone is nasty, the attitude offensive, the point being to expose fascism and anarchism as one and the same. Drummond eventually gives up the class struggle and resolves instead "to concentrate on what he was good at, pulling blokes and facilitating media representations of revolt!" With its overt political agenda, this is a strangely old-fashioned novel, but Home is more interested in the position of the proletariat within a capitalist hegemony (to coin a weary phrase) than in following literary trends.

Just The One: The Wives and Times of Jeffrey Bernard, 1932-1997, Graham Lord, Headline pounds 7.99. Jeffrey Bernard, the legendary journalist, spent over 40 years going down the pub "for a quick one" and writing his "suicide note in weekly instalments" for The Spectator until he decided, last year, to turn off his dialysis machine. Lord's biography recounts in grisly detail Bernard's 500 lovers, four marriages and careers as gigolo, navvy, fairground boxer and racing correspondent. He is careful not to lionise him, but provides little-known particulars of the Bernard family's secrets and a frank and unforgiving assessment of this last-of-the-great boozer's life.

Lights out for the Territory, Iain Sinclair, Granta pounds 7.99. Iain Sinclair writes prophetically about London and his long journeys on foot from Hackney to Chingford, across the City (penetrating its "ring of steel" and corporate culture) to Lambeth and Millbank. He records the arcane cultural life and secret symbols of the capital, as he traces the leylines along which Hawksmoor built his churches. Pitbulls at their most terrifying and graffiti as its most obscure fill Sinclair with dazzling visions of the city as dystopia. This is psychogeography at its most enthralling and humorous. As Peter Ackroyd said: "It is a book about London; in other words, a book about everything."

Rarely are film tie-in books so lavish, glossy and detailed as The Story of the Fifth Element (Titan Books, pounds 24.99). Subtitled 'The Adventure and Discovery of a Film', this is an exhaustive treatment, seen through the eyes of director Luc Besson. There are storyboards, magazine covers, costume designs and set sketches (above), alongside a week-by-week history of the project from first glimmer to final product. We see Milla Jovovich as the alien Leeloo, modelling her fantastically unflattering costume (big knickers and bandages). We get a Leeloo glossary (Maata patou: to be sad; Tay tay kita: strange); we get star biogs, gossip and glimpses of material that hit the cutting-room floor. And for all that, the film was not a critical success (though boorish Bruce Willis didn't enhance its chances by his graceless behaviour at Cannes). 'I overreached myself. To be both entertaining and philosophical was beyond my powers," concludes Besson.

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