PAPERBACKS

Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee, Vintage pounds 8.99. For those who think they know as much as they ever want to know about Bloomsbury, this lively, fresh and scholarly book is essential. A new VW emerges: not the wispy and whimsical lady-of-the-manor but a modern, shrewd and energetic character, although one who battled often against frightening mental illness. The novels, the life, the social world, the inimitable diaries and letters are woven into a highly readable account. Time For Bed by David Baddiel, Warner pounds 5.99. Insomniac Gabriel Jacoby, half New Lad, half nerd, harbours a vast unrequited love for his cat, Jezebel, and, more dangerously, his brother's wife, Alice. With his unsavoury flatmate, Nick, he sniggeringly talks about sex as though it were football ("What was the state of the pitch?" "Waterlogged"), but is a mass of neuroses. Things look up when Alice's enticingly similar sister arrives from the States, but romance is sabotaged by the dastardly Jezebel and the increasingly unhinged Nick, found gibbering in the dustbin. Persevere through the relentless flow of jokes about porn, women and Jews, and you'll find Baddiel is not a bad plotter, and he's often wildly funny. Woza Shakespeare! by Antony Sher and Gregory Doran, Methuen pounds 12.99. Overjoyed at the New South Africa, Sher renews his passport and heads out with a gang of thesps and his partner, director Gregory Doran, to take part in a series of workshops at the famous Market Theatre. Jo'burg is a tense place, but the vibrant local actors inspire the duo to return for a run of Titus Andronicus. Their interlocking diaries tell the story of the production, the different approaches of white and black to Titus's horrifying subject matter, and the wider story of the Market's difficulties. Doran's directorial, outsider perspective is cooler; Sher is vivid, touchy, eternally on the lookout for suspected slights on his Jewishness and gayness. His illustrations are, as usual, excellent.

In This Dark House by Louise Kehoe, Penguin pounds 6.99. This is "Daddy Dearest": to follow on from the more sentimental Dads-reminiscence of the New Lads, a memoir from the daughter of avant garde architect Berthold Lubetkin (the "father of British modernism") which testifies to the living hell of parental and marital tyranny the great man created. Lubetkin suddenly decided to take his family to live on an isolated farm, where he bullied his wife, and by turns ridiculed and ignored his children. What's more, he turned out to be a world-class liar: his stories of being the only survivor of a family murdered by Bolsheviks are shown, after his death, to have been false. Kehoe has managed a painful sort of forgiveness, but this is therapy-literature.

The Story of the Night by Colm Tibn, Picador pounds 15.99. Argentina in the Eighties: Richard Garay, a gay English teacher, lives with his tiresome English mother, who herself lives in a fictional British Empire, complete with jingoistic Thatcherism. He has casual sex with strangers and a hopeless crush on one of his affluent, heterosexual pupils, until he falls properly in love. A CIA couple induct Richard into the strange political agenda of US oil-barons: namely, the privatisation of Argentinian oil. Suddenly he's rich, wearing suits, and being seduced - the classic American yuppie in a country pillaged by political corruption and brutality towards its own citizens. Other realities emerge: a former classmate, he discovers, was dropped out of a plane over the ocean, one of Argentina's "Disappeared". Tibn's trademark terse prose wraps over the pacy narrative to give a picture of wider society - and a frightening one at that.

Fighting Talk: The Biography of John Prescott by Colin Brown, Simon & Schuster pounds 6.99. On 2 May, John Prescott waved to the cameras as he walked up to 10 Downing Street. "I've waited years for this," was his comment. He entered the Commons 27 years ago, and the deputy leadership was his first ministerial position. But even that didn't come easily, and this book documents Prescott's sometimes stormy relations with Tony Blair in fascinating detail. If you want to understand the role of this tub-thumping, grass-roots man in the New Labour dream-machine, try this engrossing book.

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