PAPERBACKS

Black Sea: The Birthplace of Civilisation and Barbarism by Neal Ascherson, Vintage pounds 7.99. Neal Ascherson won the Saltire Award for best Scottish book of the year for this, though there is nothing particularly Scottish about it beyond the author's birthplace. He writes: "My sense of Black Sea life, a sad one, is that latent mistrust between different cultures is immortal" - a comment that would do for Anglo-Scots relations too. Black Sea belongs to a genre of what might be called geo-stationary studies, where a patch of the earth is examined in terms of geology, biology, history, politics and so on. Learned, elegant and highly readable, it concentrates especially on the Sea's former Soviet coastline but I can't think of a better companion for those travelling to, or interested in, any part of the region.

The Moor's Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie, Vintage pounds 6.99. The greatest novelist to have received a death sentence is Dostoevsky and this, the first novel completed by Rushdie in the shadow of his fatwa, is also much concerned with crime and punishment. But there comparison must end, because Slavic gloom has no place in this chronicle of a 20th-century, multi-ethnic Bombay trading dynasty. Full of light and comic exuberance, of parodies, puns and puncturing ironies, of semantic elasticity and metaphorical bounce, it is narrated by Abraham Zogoiby, half-Jew, half-Christian and scion of a spice-fortune built up to toppling height by his father, whose interests embrace bent banking, precarious property and dodgy chemicals. The family history is fantastical and hilarious - the women especially are extraordinary - but beneath everything is Mother India herself, "with her garishness and her inexhaustible motion". A brilliant rebuff to killjoys everywhere.

Charles Darwin: Voyaging by Janet Brown, Pimlico pounds 12.50. This biography of Darwin, first of a projected two, takes the father of modern life sciences up his 47th year when, after long hesitation, he decides to lay out his ideas about evolution by natural selection in a book, The Origin of Species. "His story is the story of the era," asserts Brown, and her insistence that the theory and its progenitor are alike the products of their age has the effect of slightly diminishing the notion of Darwin's singularity and, perhaps, of his greatness. There have been a number of heavyweight Lives of the man in recent years. This one is a perfectly decent contender, though to claim that it is definitive - as the publishers do - seems over the top.

The Following Story by Cees Nooteboom, trs Ina Rilke, Harvill pounds 5.99. Dutch literature might as well not exist for all the notice it gets in Britain. But, after years of distinction in his own country, Cees Nooteboom has commanded attention with this gentle, European Literature Prize-winning story of an elderly classics teacher, setting sail in his ship of death with memories of old books and failed love. His definition, "time is the system that must prevent everything from happening at once,", with its provocative "must", would have delighted Nabokov, since it enables time to be subverted, switched off or rewired just like any other system. And Nooteboom is in many ways Nabokov's disciple: precise and particular but playing all the time a universal game.

Streets Ahead: Life After City Lights by Keith Waterhouse, Sceptre pounds 6.99. Pubs and drinkers loom large in the second volume of memoirs by Britain's senior tabloid columnist. An early chapter on Fleet Street's Fifties watering holes is a slice of highly informative industrial history but, with many a paragraph beginning in the style "From the Kismet we might drift on to ...", the fond descriptions of long-ago pub crawls become wearisome. And once Waterhouse drifts on from the staff of the Mirror to write freelance, the wet rot spreads through the edifice of his book as it becomes an encomium to his theatrical work - celebrity names reeled off, gushing reviews quoted and crashing failures glossed over. Fans have learned to accept a certain unevenness, but his best writing is still the very best.

Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality by Andrew Sullivan, Picador pounds 6.99. The ancient Greeks thought highly of homosexuality, other cultures have been tolerant, but the Christian tradition has always swung between rabid abhorrence and polite regret. Sullivan, who resigned as editor of the American political weekly New Republic after announcing he was HIV positive, provides a balanced and at times moving account of the problems of being gay in the modern world. A conservative, he attacks American liberals with their affirmative action programmes whilst insisting on deregulation - the removal of discriminatory laws, the recognition of same-sex marriage - as the main plank in his platform.

Small Holdings by Nicola Barker, Faber pounds 5.99. A park in London's Palmer's Green is the setting for this crisp allegory populated by deep-dyed eccentrics. The park is privatised but also under-financed, under threat and over budget. The workers - Phil, Doug, Ray, Nancy and one-legged Saleem - are fighting to save their management franchise, so wherein lies their salvation - a bandstand? Crazy golf? Phil shaving off his facial hair? This funny, punkily unsentimental novel comes from a very talented hand.

The Beethoven Compendium ed Barry Cooper, Thames & Hudson pounds 16.95. If Beethoven were a city this would be your Baedeker. It gives a Who's Who of his contemporaries, a chronology and a complete list of works, as well as informed background detail on such subjects as how music was performed in Ludwig's day, the documentary records for his life, what he read, the progress of his deafness and plenty more. The one missing element is a survey of recordings, but otherwise this reference book is admirable, as is the uniform volume on Mozart at the same price.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on