Saturday 06 January 1996
Private Eye's scourge of sacred cows leaves no laurel in place, whether toppling "grand old stagers" (I. Murdoch, K. Amis, A. Brookner), or tracing the way today's reviewers and writers scratch one another's familiar backs. Essays on John Updike (see "Sentenced to Hard Labia"), and The Hundred Years Waugh, expose the sillier cul de sacs of Grub Street glory.
The Faber Book of Murder edited by Simon Rae (pounds 9.99)
While admitting that murder is "sordid, ugly, brutal, horrible", Rae also insists it is "intrinsically interesting". His gory trawl supports the first more than the second view. By stressing the climax, we learn little of the circumstances of crime. There are generous servings from the great murder queens, but the real star is Dickens. One is left with the impious thought: does anyone read the verse bits of anthologies?
In God's Country by Douglas Kennedy (Abacus, pounds 7.99)
Touring the US Bible Belt brings this American-born, London-based writer into contact with an assorted mix of the born-again, including former Mafioso Rev. Tony Waters, Christian heavy-metal band Stryper and Rev Herb Shreve of the 28,000-strong Christian Motorcycle Assoc (motto: 'Run for the Son'). Non-believer Kennedy gives them a fair hearing but more historical context would have helped.
When Elephants Weep by Jeffrey Masson and Susan McCarthy (Vintage, pounds 6.99)
This fascinating defence of anthropomorphism is based on Darwin's view that man and the higher animals have similar ''passions, affections and emotions". Long-term studies (Fossey on gorillas, Goodall on chimps) and a wealth of examples show that our "evolutionary cousins" experience feelings as we do. It is convenient sophistry for man to argue otherwise.
A Month and a Day by Ken Saro-Wiwa (Penguin, pounds 6.99)
Written in 1993, this is a brilliant account of Saro-Wiwa's first spell in prison and the irresistible impetus which forced him - like so many Nigerian writers - to adopt a political stance. His book is also a scathing indictment of Nigeria's thuggish rulers and the oil interests whose "godlike 'we can do no wrong' attitude" is only too recognisable. It is unsurprising that the regime wanted to be rid of such an articulate opponent.
Behind the Scenes of the Museum by Kate Atkinson (Black Swan, 6.99)
Conceived above a pet shop in York, and born just in time to see the Queen's coronation on Dad's new TV, Ruby Lennox is one of a long line of frustrated Yorkshire women thwarted by war, poverty, and bad marriages. Atkinson's evocation of a Fifties girlhood is jammed with Northern common sense and impish good humour. The winner of this year's Whitbread First Novel Award.
Kenneth Tynan Letters edited by Kathleen Tynan (Minerva, 12.99)
When Kenneth Tynan couldn't get down to his reviews, articles or books, he wrote letters: taking as much trouble to entertain and charm Laurence Olivier as he did his accountant or his dentist. The most endearing thing about Tynan's correspondence - and this vast collection spans the years from Birmingham schoolboy to LA exile - is how the precocious and gleeful 16-year-old in him never quite grew up.
The Vintage Book of Feminism edited by Miriam Schneir (pounds 7.99)
Modern feminism's greatest hits - including classic extracts from Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem, and Susan Faludi - now gathered together in one handy volume. The thumbnail sketches of each author are deftly executed, and Schneir has selected all those essays you feel you should have read but never got round to - including Anita Hill's Statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Jerusalem Commands by Michael Moorcock (Phoenix 6.99)
In the third, penultimate, and weakest volume of Michael Moorcock's chronicles of Colonel Pyatt, the Colonel continues doing what he does best: betraying friends, committing social injustices and consorting with the rich and famous. An anti-Semite born at the century's opening, Pyatt stands as Moorcock's vision of the ultimate bad faith of our age, and seems headed for an urgent appointment in Auschwitz.
Capone: The Man and the Era by Laurence Bergreen (Pan, pounds 8.99)
All those rat-a-tat gunfights in gangster flicks are no exaggeration. In 1928 there were 367 killings in Chicago. Packed with anecdote, Bergreen's reassessment of the infamous mob boss is more thrillingly absorbing than any crime fiction. Personally genial, Capone was also a ruthless psychopath, his judgement blurred by syphilis. A scabrous portrait of the Chicago press corps is not the least of this book's pleasures.
The Revolt of Owain Glyn Dwr
by R.R. Davies (Oxford, pounds 20)
Conspiratorial politics, dynastic pretensions, guerrilla tactics and lofty ideals in the scramble for self-rule led by Wales's most famous son in the 14th century.
The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers edited by Barbara Reynolds
(Hodder, pounds 25)
The genesis of a detective writer through 37 years of correspondence, from high-spirited bluestocking to mother of an illegitimate child, caught between her feelings and the constraints of society.
Rasero by Francisco Rebolledo, trans. Helen Lane (Weidenfeld, pounds 16.99)
Stunning novelistic debut which conjures the ordures and odours of the age of Enlightenment as brilliantly as the intellectual, artistic and sexual vigour of its protagonists.
Shula's Story by Joanna Toye (BBC Books, pounds 9.99)
From star-crossed teenager to untimely widow, Ambridge's damsel of a thousand disasters is caught for Archers addicts between hard covers.
Drink: An Informal Social History by Andrew Barr (Bantam, pounds 16.99)
Travels around the palate of social drinking from the ravages of 18th- century gin epidemics to tamer fetishes, culminating with the odd fancies for bottled water and Australian Chardonary in the present century.
Noel Coward: A Biography by Philip Hoare (Sinclair-Stevenson, pounds 25)
Witty and intimate portrait of the Master, written with the co-operation of (most of) the Coward Fan Club and offering for the first time the low- down on his absorbing sex life.
Happy Days by Beryl Cook (Gollancz, pounds 14.99)
More leopardskin lycra, bouffant hairstyles and bespectacled voyeurs living it up in the nightclubs of Tenerife, the tango bars of Buenos Aires and the public library. The recently OBE-d Cook confirms her strength as a benignly wicked social satirist.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 If I were Prime Minister: I'd give tax cuts to the rich, keep Trident, and get my football team wrong
- 2 Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to join show
- 3 General Election 2015: 14-year-old boy asks Nick Clegg – 'can you kill Katie Hopkins?'
- 4 University student in court for allegedly covering housemates' food in window cleaner and spit
- 5 Garland shooting: Isis claims attack on Prophet Mohamed cartoon contest in Texas as its first action on US soil
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to join show
Eurovision 2015: What date is the song contest and who are the favourites to win?
Game of Thrones, season 5 episode 4, review: Sansa in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
Noel Gallagher 'cannot wait' to hear Oasis-inspired One Direction album but rants about 'pointless' Tidal and Spotify
The highly NSFW poster for Gaspar Noé's Love makes Nymphomaniac look like 50 Shades
In defence of liberal democracy
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
Andy McSmith's Sketch: Feisty audience is the real star of an enlightening show