Saturday 02 March 1996
Her mother is mad, her father is dead, and her sister is a civil servant with a weakness for furry hats. Hazel has no one to turn to when she discovers her gynaecologist husband is using her womb as a genetic test site. A reproductive satire Fay Weldon would be proud to have mothered.
Real Life by Marsha Hunt (Flamingo, pounds 6.99)
It was the English rain that made Marsha Hunt famous: it fluffed up her curls to thrice normal size. landing her a part in Hair. Her engaging autobiography includes memories of groovy days in Berkeley and Notting Hill, and a less than flattering portrait of Mick Jagger (spots and all.) A "Spade Chick" with attitude.
A Stranger in the Family by Terry Sanderson (Other Way Press, pounds 9.95)
Increased heart beats, hot flushes, shaky legs, nausea and helpless crying. Not the onset of the menopause, but a mother's reaction on learning that her child is gay. Straightforward advice on the etiquette of closet- exiting, including the reassuring message that a little suffering is good for you.
The Chess Garden by Brook Hansen
(Sceptre pounds 5.99)
Gorged on cucumber pickles, the children of Dayton, Ohio gather after school to hear Dr Uyterhoeven's letters home, in which he writes of a land lived in by chess pieces and origami cranes. This turn-of-the-century fable is at times so rich, it gives you heartburn. He's either brilliant or barking.
Too Damn Famous by Joan Collins (Orion pounds 5.99)
Katherine Bennet, America's glitziest soap star, emerges triumphant from an LA courtroom to face the press. Then it's home to boiled eggs and toast, and a Mexican maid who can't even fix the air-conditioning. After all the fuss, it's good to know Joanie can write - especially about herself.
A Thousand Miles from Nowhere by Graham Coster (Penguin, pounds 5.99)
Coster cadged lifts with big rigs hauling ices to Moscow and vehicle parts across the US. Keen-eyed and witty, his work deserves to reach readers far beyond the truck-stop. He's particularly good on the "ducking and diving" required to attain transcontinental destinations despite manifold obstacles. In Connecticut, for example, the law demands white sheets for cab beds.
The Five Giants by Nicholas Timmins (Fontana, pounds 9.99)
Want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness: the giant evils which the Welfare State was set up to tackle 50 years ago. Timmins has produced a wide-ranging biography of this endeavour, battered now but still responsible for two-thirds of public spending. Despite its bulk, this is an excellent read, packed with sharp detail from Beveridge (creator) to Portillo (would- be destroyer).
The Gospel According to Women by Karen Armstrong (Fount, pounds 8.99)
"To embrace a woman," wrote Odo of Cluny in the 12th century, "is to embrace a sack of manure." The subjection of women has taken place since Christianity's earliest days. Armstrong's account of how the church stereotypes women is learned, but marred by overstatement, eg: "The anorexic sums up the dangers of the myth of virginal autonomy."
Playland by John Gregory Dunne (Granta, pounds 6.99)
Funny, violent, foul-mouthed, this ambitious Hollywood novel tells the story of Baby Blue Tyler, an ex-child star now on the skids, and the sleazy circle of gangsters and movie tsars surrounding her in the 1940s. Weaving in news items and crime reports, the narrative style owes a bit to John Dos Passos. The tone - sour, flip, knowing - sums up Tinseltown at its most cynically appealing.
The Death of Ayrton Senna by Richard Williams (Penguin, pounds 5.99)
A well-crafted assessment of the man who "turned grand prix racing into a contact sport". Complex and utterly competitive, Senna was a committed Christian who "needed to go as fast as possible all the time". Williams likens his approach to musical improv, quoting one jazz-man on the need to "leap into the unknown". The crash stays a mystery, but Williams touches on a few of racing's dark secrets.
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