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.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Planes go hybrid-electric in important step to greener flight
- 2 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 3 Northern Lights above Britain: Stunning Aurora Borealis illuminates Northumberland sky on Christmas Eve
- 4 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 5 New route to Mars could make manned mission much cheaper and easier
Christmas Day TV guide 2014: What to watch from Strictly Come Dancing to the story of Frozen
Cruel Woman in Black prank sees cinema-goers terrified by movie poster - watch their reactions
Best underrated Christmas movies: From Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
Christmas TV guide 2014: The best shows to watch from Doctor Who to Downton Abbey
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food