Saturday 30 September 1995
"Remembering is the First Stop to Healing", proclaims an advert in the South-Western Bell Yellow Pages. And memories of child abuse, as viewers of Oprah well know, seem almost commonplace in America today. This convincing attack on recovered memory therapy claims that to strip people of their actual memories, fill them with hatred, and charge a fee for the trouble, is the real abuse going on.
Mothers' Boys by Margaret Forster (Penguin, pounds 5.99)
Margaret Forster always suprises with the speed with which she yanks the reader into the heart of her family sagas, spinning tales of generational history with the ease of a good gossip. Here, Mrs Armstrong and Mrs Kennedy are brought together after their teenage sons are involved in a brutal stabbing A gripping old-fashioned read, which captures the agonies of mother-love over the social niceties of the kitchen table.
Richard Ingrams, Lord of the Gnomes by Harry Thompson (Mandarin, pounds 6.99)
What a charmed life those Private Eye boys must have led. Games played in school studies and Oxford rooms worked just as well when transferred to Soho offices, and even earned them spending money and rakish esteem. Most charmed among them was Ingrams, subject of this biography, whose air of remote helplessness so fired women up, that it had them pushing him into lavatories on fast-moving trains.
Daisy Bates in the Desert by Julia Blackburn (Minerva, pounds 6.99)
A bright, penniless Irish girl, Daisy Bates boarded a ship for Australia and reinvented herself. After a brief marriage to Breaker Morant, and brief forays into Australian high society, she abandoned a life-long preoccupation with her own good looks, and went to live with the Aborigines. This novelistic Life is a strange and stunning read, retracing the life of this contradictory woman whose last reminder of the grasses of Ireland was a stalk of cabbage.
Rushing to Paradise by J G Ballard (Flamingo, pounds 5.99)
On the island of Saint Esprit, the albatross isn't the only endangered species. When Dr Barbara Rafferty moves in with her band of wild-eyed eco-activists, she's intent on building the perfect feminist utopia, where natural habitats are treated with respect, and where she doesn't have to wash her hair. Men are "Reason", she says, but women are "Magic", which means men are out once their fertility falls. Savage satire, but with little sense of fun.
The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez-Reverte (Flamingo, pounds 5.99)
Picked out in sienna blue and copper-green, Duke Ferdinand and Roger de Arras sit poised over a chess board. Not an unusual painting for Julia, a dark-eyed picture restorer from Madrid, to tackle - but one that hides a mysterious inscription, "Quis necavit equitem," (who killed the knight?). With its wood-panelled apartments, this Euro-thriller cries out for the Inspector Morse film crew.
The Rock of Tanios by Amin Maalouf (Abacus, pounds 6.99)
Located in a Lebanese village in the 1830s, this variation on the themes of loyalty, power and love won the Prix Goncourt. As the feudal order crumbles, the bastard son of a local sheikh is swept up in murder, treachery and colonial manoeuvring. Told with the simplicity of fable but set on the cusp of the modern world, this is a wonderful tale based on the real-life betrayal of one of the author's forebears.
An Intimate History of Humanity by Theodore Zeldin (Minerva, pounds 7.99)
In this audacious work, Zeldin muses on 25 opaquely titled themes, eg "Why there has been more progress in food than in sex". For each, there is a profile of an individual who is somehow affected and a digressive essay bolstered by odd facts. From successive chapters we learn: Socrates was very ugly; there are 250,000 types of leaves; Andean peasants use 20-40 varieties of potato in a stew. Diffuse but dazzling.
First World War by Martin Gilbert (Harper Collins, pounds 9.99)
Don't be put off by its 600-page bulk or by the fear that Churchill's famously voluminous biographer may be a touch on the dry side. This panoramic narrative is superbly readable. The horrors of industrialised mass slaughter are tempered by a wealth of unexpected detail, such as the 1914 Times report of fictitious Russians in Britain ("fierce-looking bearded fellows in fur hats"). The prolific Mr Gilbert is a national treasure.
Writing Home by Alan Bennett (Faber, pounds 7.99)
Perhaps the most successful dramatic spin-off since Shaw's Prefaces, Bennett's collection of offcuts, squibs and diary entries from the past 25 years flew out of shops last Christmas. Its success was well deserved. Not only is Bennett a master of drollery, he is also one of the finest stylists currently writing. Sadly, the chance to issue an expanded edition including recent work, such as his Peter Cook obituary, was overlooked.
Scott Fitzgerald: A Biography by Jeffrey Meyers (Papermac, pounds 12)
Against a dizzy Jazz Age backdrop, a cast of legendary figures drink themselves to hell. This riveting, if familiar story (it is the sixth major Life), is told with objectivity. It was, as Chandler noted, "a marvel that Fitzgerald did as well as he did", blitzed as he was by booze. We may lament the loss of a fine novelist to Hollywood, but Meyers points out that the only money he made came from films and short stories.
East, West by Salman Rushdie (Vintage, pounds 5.99)
Scheherazade meets Star Trek in these well-honed miniatures from the maestro of the cross-cultural block-buster. They fall into three sections: folksy, slightly magical tales set in India; European literary baubles; and the doings of bookish Indian chaps in Britain. The significance of fantasy is a recurring feature. Though little more than hors-d'oeuvres compared to Rushdie's customary banquets, they are nutritious nonetheless.
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