Saturday 20 April 1996
The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Vol II by Edward Gibbon (Penguin, pounds 15.00).
From the murder in 383 of Emperor Gratian, Gibbon's majestic tale of economic triumph marred by unstable leadership rolls onward. With the division of the empire, the story is much taken with the barbarians at the gate. This volume ends by exploring the "languid belief" of the Ethiopian Christians, little changed when described by Waugh in the 1930s.
Celestine by Gillian Tindall (Minerva, pounds 6.99). In an abandoned property at the geographical centre of France, Tindall discovered a cache of love letters dating from 1862, These fragile missives drew her into the life of publican's daughter Celestine Chaumette (1844-1933). As Tindall remarks, it was "a vertiginous stretch of time". From the isolated, almost medieval world described in the fiction of George Sand, where wolves were still a pest and fairies a part of everyday life, Celestine survived into the age of the radio and the aeroplane. Ideal gite reading.
Model by Michael Gross (Bantam, pounds 6.99). "God...I wouldn't mind a slice of that one..." David Bailey is reported to have said on seeing Jean Shrimpton for the first time. The history of modelling is little more than that - slices all round for photographers, fashion editors, advertisers and sleeze-ball agents. Fashion journalist Michael Gross's "in-your-face" expose of the flesh trade, with its lurid tales of under-aged sex, rape and drug abuse points out the many advantages of not looking like Cindy, Christie or Claudia.
How the Allies Won the War by Richard Overy (Pimlico, pounds 12 50). A hybrid of strategic analysis and studies in leadership, Overy's reappraisal sounds brilliant but dryish. In fact, it is ferociously addictive, tilled with unexpected detail. We learn, for example, that the Allied forces were fully mechanised in 1944 but the German army was still using 1.25 million horses,and that area bombing by the Allies was far more effective than critics have suggested
Major Major by Terry Major-Ball (Warner Books, pounds 6.99). At last, in paperback, the book that made Private Eye, the Daily Telegraph and Nicholas Soames wet themselves with glee. But Terry's reminiscences of life with the Majors are more likely to make you weep than laugh: hard times in the garden gnome business, family illnesses in Croydon and the saddest of all, Norma's failure to provide her husband with anything more than a cup of tea on the night of his leadership victory (Terry, ever the solicitous older brother, had to send out for pie and chips).
Moo by Jane Smiley (Flamingo pounds 6.99). Smiley's exquisite satire of Mid- West college life is at times so real that the whiff of stale beer and hog's manure (a smell the faculty of "Moo U" comes to know well) lingers a little too convincingly. Less sober than her previous novels, the author's portraits of Nineties academics (especially the promiscuous Timothy Monahan, professor of creative writing) are wickedly drawn, though at times the book's descriptive passages are over-dense. David Lodge couldn't have done it better.
So I Am Glad by AL Kennedy (Vintage, pounds 5.99). When a 300-year-old Frenchman, possibly Cyrano de Bergerac, turns up in her Glasgow flat, Jennifer (A DJ with a sore throat), decides to let him stay. In return he weans her off sado-masochistic sex, takes her to Paris and tells her she's beautiful. For once in her life she is not alone. A fantastical novel that thrives on edgy dialogue and unexpected ideas. AL Kennedy knows what it is to be young and depressed.
Dangerous Pilgrimages: Transatlantic Mythologies and the Novel by Malcolm Bradbury (Penguin, pounds 8.99). A series of essays in which Bradbury describes how Americans and Europeans have been inventing each other for centuries: swapping cowboys for aristocrats, psycho-killers for vampires, or the Rolling Stones for Madonna in a Transatlantic trade every bit as real as the one for Scotch and Bourbon. Nothing new in all of this, or the notion that all writers are expats, but a good introduction to the great figures of Anglo-American lit.
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