A Perfect Execution by Tim Binding, Picador pounds 5.99. Weather forecasting was the central image of Binding's first novel, In the Kingdom of the Air. The ruling metaphor of his follow-up is darker as he plunges, with grisly relish, into the world of the public executioner. Binding describes the hangman's craft with exceptional force and clarity, and you close the book confident you could perform the ministry yourself, efficiently if not cheerfully. His protagonist, Jem Bembo, is a market gardener who hangs for his country under the professional name of Soloman Straw. As well as his tomatoes, Straw cultivates the technique of the gallows with almost monastic perfectionism, and his career proceeds with acclaim until, becoming tangentially involved in a sensational crime with strong resemblances to the A6 murder, he is required to hang a man of questionable guilt. This is not a tract about capital punishment, but it harries liberal virtue with the weapons of solipsism and despair.
The Imaginary Girlfriend: A Memoir by John Irving, Black Swan pounds 6.99. The author of The World According to Garp and has a place in the wrestling Hall of Fame as the best writer to wrestle competitively. He has never won a tournament but who cares? The man loves wrestling the way Mailer feels about boxing, has practised it since the age of 14 and still wrestles at 55. "My aim was to write an autobiography of 100 pages in four months," he says, that being the period he took to recover from his latest ring injury. The amiably concise result is an excellent addition to the recent spate of sports literature.
Animal Planet by Scott Bradfield, Picador pounds 6.99. This vigorous satire on race, politics and society presents the same opening scenario as Animal Farm, with beasts thinking and acting as people. But Bradfield's planet is no microcosmic command economy like Orwell's farm. It is today's globalised free market in low-cost labour, consumables, lifestyle. An agitator for the animal underclass, a crow called Charlie, incites revolt at London Zoo. He then appears in Antarctica, fomenting discontent amongst the penguins. Finally Charlie has his few brief minutes of media fame. His memoirs are published in New York and he hits the chat-show circuit amid accusations of selling out. He's then displaced in the public eye by a rabble-rousing wildebeeste called Scaramangus. The humour often has a fine edge of bitter surrealism, but Bradfield's diffuse plotting does not allow the barbs to pierce quite as painfully as Orwell's.
The Neanderthal Enigma: Solving the Mystery of Modern Human Origins by James Shreeve, Penguin pounds 8.99. Palaeoanthropology - the study of our remote ancestry - provides bystanders with interesting evidence of how unscientific social paradigms intervene in science: this discipline, necessarily much preoccupied with race, is clearly terrified of racism and accusations thereof. There are two current theories about the global spread of our species. One has hominids all over the world evolving simultaneously into homo sapiens, keeping in step by means of "gene flow" between global regions. The other says we are descended from one type of "hom" from Africa which, in a single diaspora, blew away all pre-existing hominid species, such as the Neaderthals in Europe. In Shreeve's account both sides accuse the other of racism in this bad-tempered, highly colourful dispute.
Going Man in Hollywood by David Sherwin, Penguin pounds 8.99. Diaries by people connected to the film industry have been coming my way with increasing regularity, but I wanted to read this one because Sherwin wrote If ..., one of the most truthful films about English public-school life ever made, as well as O Lucky Man and Britannia Hospital. His diaries are lively, immediate and especially useful as an account of Sherwin's friendship with Lindsay Anderson, who (had he done more work) might have become Britain's best post-war film director. Sherwin himself is given to bouts of Behaving Badly, and neither man seems easy to get along with. But that makes them all the more entertaining.Reuse content