PAPERBACKS - Books - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

PAPERBACKS

Londoner John Russell packs in the literary anecdotes in his racy, historical survey of London (Thames & Hudson pounds 19.95). Mary Ann Evans (soon to become George Eliot) lived in "the very archetype of the bad bed-sitter", while Hunt represents Londoners' qualities of friendship and optimism. Artists include Tissot, Hogarth, Sickert and Zoffany. Above: John Henry Henshall's "Behind the Bar", 1882

Blake by Peter Ackroyd, Minerva pounds 7.99. There's an air of distinct authority about Ackroyd's biography of William Blake. Above all, it is the life of a Londoner: brusque, intellectually self-sufficient and frequently paranoid, Blake was also the greatest visionary who ever played hopscotch in those chartered streets. Not mad, Ackroyd thinks, in any clinical sense, Blake was certainly an oddball, combining combative individualism with a passionate inner belief in human community. As an artist he hated the ruling academicism of his time and looked beyond to less bourgeois models. As a writer he was led by his own enormous, if always contrary, ambition. Not content just to be a seed stuck between the teeth of his age he aimed at no less a target than, as Ackroyd puts it, to "change the entire nature of human perception".

A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore, Penguin pounds 6.99. The winner of the inaugural Orange Prize deals with Edwardian land-owning folk, whose era was set to suffer summary abridgement by the Great War. Such stories come with ready-made impending generational doom, but Dunmore is more interested in the personal tragedy of the narrator, whose mother has long fled a fully-certified psychotic husband, leaving little Cathy and brother Rob in the care of a grandfather and a clutch of servants. Cathy's painful journey to womanhood takes in a sinister governess, incest, an abortion and the on-off friendship of a rich neighbour, George Bullivant, Cathy's very own Mr Knightley. But in its expressionistic use of deviance, madness, climate and season it is as close to the tradition of the Brontes as to Austen.

In the Public Interest by Gerald James, Warner Books pounds 8.99. James is the former Chairman of Astra Holdings, a fireworks company that grew in a few years in the 1980s into Britain's second largest arms manufacturer. Astra came not only to encapsulate the culture of British industry in those years, it was implicated in most of the Thatcher government's more sordid imbroglios - Westland, Matrix-Churchill, the Supergun, Ordtech, the Aitken-"Singapore" affair. Arms exports are of course so deeply tainted by secrecy, corruption and double-dealing that nothing written about them is to be taken entirely on trust. James eventually lost his investment, his job and all pension entitlements, so he is certainly no disinterested observer. Yet this dignified and detailed apologia amounts also to a compelling prosecution of Thatcher and her ministers which demands to be taken seriously.

The Insult by Rupert Thomson, Bloomsbury pounds 6.99. Shot in the head and struck blind, Martin Blom lies in his bed convinced he really can see - but only in the dark. He believes doctors have secretly implanted an experimental microchip in his brain stem and, though it's explained to him that sudden blindness can induce delusions, his paranoia sends him fleeing into the world with his white stick. Meeting and falling in love with Nina, naturally both beautiful and enigmatic, he regards her sudden disappearance as confirming his fears. Theme and setting - a vague Mittel- Europa of dingy rooms, threatening officials and clipped Teutonic nomenclature - lend a distinct whiff of Kafka to this poetically written, obsessive tale in which love and anxiety dissolve into nightmare.

In Bed With an Elephant by Ludovic Kennedy, Corgi pounds 6.99. Sir Ludo is still one of our most effective communicators. Politically Liberal, in America he'd long ago have been demonised as a communist, for he has never shrunk from espousing unpopular libertarian causes. But this is also a patriotic Scot, no full-scale nationalist but a Home Ruler, and his book is a highly personal statement of the case for a Scots culture distinct from that of the Albion elephant to the south. In an idiosyncratic but effective order of business he ponders aspects of Scottish history (Bonnie Prince Charlie, Mary Queen of Scots, Boswell and Johnson, the Stone of Scone and more) to see what lessons they hold for the future.

Nazi Germany: A New History by Klaus P Fischer, Constable pounds 14.95. There is nothing startlingly new here, but Fischer's book functions as an excellent synoptic account, well written, offering material and resources aplenty for further study, if one is so inclined. Fischer's reading of the Nazi state and of Hitler's personality are conventional - the Reich, in intention totalitarian, was rather less all-pervasive than it wanted to be, and Hitler was a fascinating showman on top and a sick bastard underneath. His three-page diagnosis of the Fuhrer's personality sticks it with just about every psychological disorder in the book. Fischer ends with a useful discussion of the historiography of Nazism, pointing out that it still seems to us a "moral wilderness". Historians' maps can only lead uncertainly towards the guilty parties.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
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.

    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
    The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

    The fall of Rome?

    Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
    Glasgow girl made good

    Glasgow girl made good

    Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
    Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

    Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

    Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
    The landscape of my imagination

    The landscape of my imagination

    Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories