As our environment gets ever more colourful, are we the beneficiaries of a revolution in style or the victims of visual pollution? Michael Lancaster's Colourscape (Academy Editions pounds 21.95) uses perception studies, landscape architecture and sociology to probe the effects of all this brilliance. Above: Norman Foster's elegant buttercup-yellow Renault building, Swindon

Cross Channel by Julian Barnes, Picador pounds 5.99. If only we and the French were more alike, Britain's imagination would begin to have room for the rest of the world. But polarisation starts at Calais, where the English are so sharply stung by difference that France at once becomes the essence of abroad, the indispensible reference point for national identity. This is the role she plays in these stories of past and present: each, in its way, is a boundary flag outlining English regard for that country where cricket is not so much unplayed as unthinkable, British cultural giants are practically anonymous, sex is a sport and sport an intellectual pursuit. In an illuminating passage from the final tale - itself a summation of what has gone before - a Barnes alter ego stands xenophobia on its head, musing that other countries "existed to supply idealism: they were a version of pastoral". Barnes is shot through with like cleverness; his words glide through landscapes of ideas as easily as a hand-built Rolls-Royce cruises along a ruler-straight, cypress-lined route nationale.

Tchaikovsky by Anthony Holden, Bantam pounds 9.99. For no composer of the classical/romantic era was sex so disastrous. A committed homosexual, Tchaikovsky was - in the predominant though not universal modern view - unable to square the idea of himself as a public figure with his addiction to sordid, impersonal gay sex. The attempted cure, marriage to a fruit- cake called Antonina Milyukova, plunged the composer into the comic-heroic misery that provoked Ken Russell into making The Music Lovers. In the end, sex almost certainly killed Tchaikovsky. Holden gives extensive detail of the self-appointed "court of honour" of old classmates who, 34 years after they had all gone out into the world, ordered the composer to kill himself for the good name of the old school. This, Holden suggests, he did by taking arsenic, whose symptoms mimic those of the official cause of his death, cholera. Oh, and the bloke also wrote some great music, apparently.

The Return of John Macnab by Andrew Greig, Headline pounds 6.99. John Buchan was the fountainhead of the modern thriller and it is pleasant to find such a literate contemporary tribute. Buchan's 1925 John Macnab had a trio of bored men throwing down a poaching challenge in Scotland. In Greig's re-make they become a motley threesome - former SAS man, Trotskyite and depressed copywriter - joined by a (female and beautiful) struck-off solicitor who falls uneasily in love with the adman. Of the three sporting estates that are told they'd be losing a salmon, a brace of grouse and a deer, the last is Balmoral. So, when HRH arrives to take up the gauntlet, Military Intelligence and Special Forces enter the equation. The denouement, in which the heir to the throne invites the Trot to call him Frank ("one has always wanted to be called Frank"), is one of several excellent episodes.

Leading the Blind: A Century of Guidebook Travel 1815-1911 by Alan Sillitoe, Papermac pounds 9. Today we have bucket shop air fares and Rough Guides, and anyone with a backpack can hit the hippy trail. Then they had railways and Murray's Handbooks (started 1836) or Baedecker's guides (1839) and the object was exactly the same - to move among strange peoples without getting scared half to death. Sillitoe's chapters unfold geographically, each moving further from the comforts of England, as far as Constantinople and Russia. A successful entertainment rather than a history, the book still manages to show that the essentials of tourism are eternal: what to take, see and eat and how to avoid pests. One also notes the assumed superiority with which the guidebooks were imbued - still to be found unconsciously lurking in the backpacking guides of today.

Nano! by Ed Regis, Bantam pounds 7.99. Nanotechnology may be the ultimate extension of the original project of natural science (champion: Francis Bacon) - to understand nature so well that you can enslave it. It is about subvisible molecular machines, capable of building, destroying, calculating, thinking. These, Regis predicts, will change our lives irreversibly a decade from now. His book tries to avoid sensational futurology, but the implications are certainly sensational. Molecular engineering makes organ transplants, microsurgery and other so-called miracle procedures laughably outmoded. It will be the last possible word in mechanistic medicine. It will also produce a molecular computer, even a designer life-form, with optional self-replication. In the end it will bring an end to human work. Incredible opportunity or moral disaster? Regis sets out pluses and minuses, but this is really a buffy sort of book that gets devoured in one goggle-eyed session or tossed aside after 20 pages.

Driving My Father by Susan Wicks, Faber pounds 6.99. As children we love our parents for the unconditional safety they can give us. But what happens to that love when the roles reverse and they become dependent on us? This memoir - or prose elegy? - tries to answer that question. Susan Wicks's father began a sad new life when her mother died and, despite the claims of her own husband and children, she must try to compensate for his irrevocable loss. The story is told in ordinary narration broken up by fragments of memory which come up as if randomly. Adult memory handles childhood, Susan Wicks knows, by chopping it into self-contained bits: delicate spoonfuls of recollection, some of them tasty and luxuriously complete in themselves. In these pages the pathos of her father in decline, using a walking frame, crying at the sink, is meliorated by those sweet lickings.

The First Time by Lara Harte, Phoenix pounds 5.99. With Euro-song, summer schools and whiskey, First Novelists are a major part of the Irish GNP these days. Harte's themes are friendship and alienation, which Catcher in the Rye forever defined as the central preoccupations of coming-of- age fiction. Fourteen-year-old Cassandra's posh school near Dublin is a pirhana-pool of envy and backbiting. Leeching onto new classmate Emma, she is disastrously misled into believing in the friendship as it draws her, half aware, through a succession of firsts - drink, smoke, snog, kick in the teeth. Never mind that the author was only 18 when she posted it, unsolicited, to a London publisher, this stands out as an exceptionally truthful and fluent first novel.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor