Paperbacks

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Lantern Slides: Diaries and Letters of Violet Bonham Carter 1904-1914 ed Mark Bonham Carter and Mark Pottle, Phoenix pounds 10.99. She was the daughter of H H Asquith, a Prime Minister who often teetered on the brink of political oblivion. Observing these events, she displays an acute grasp of the central issues while, at the same time, fending off romantically eligible young men with varying degrees of skill. Even at 18, her wit could be positively Austenian, as when she speaks of a beau who "tho' not amusing is easily amused - this is the next best thing. A good many fall between the two stools." Her gift for language is indeed among the best pleasures of this accumulative self-portrait, which is also an intimate, accurate view of her times. Lady Bonham Carter, 17 when the volume opens, lived until 1969, so this is a first taste of many delights to come.

Eureka Street by Robert McLiam Wilson, Minerva pounds 6.99. At midpoint in this striking Belfast novel, Wilson pauses his story to give a night time evocation: "The city rises and falls like music, like breathing ... The city is a novel ..." In this chapter, with its references to Joyce and Dylan Thomas, we see the novel's ambition to be a masterpiece - and the worm of pretentiousness which defeats it. Here are the stories of two working class friends, Chuckie Lurgan, fat, Catholic-loving prod, and Jake Jackson, non-sectarian Taig and former hard-man. Both need love and fulfilment in a city writhing and squelching under the studded boot of insurrection. And each will find it in the heaven-sent breathing-space created by the most recent ceasefire. Wilson's language is consistently surprising, and the central characters, especially Chuckie, are joyful, expansive creations. And he is often extremely funny, spouting Roddy Doyle-stuff by the gallon and at times rising towards Wodehouse. To do that and then be dealing with the visceral effects of a city-centre bomb isn't half bad.

Bright Paradise: Victorian Scientific Travellers by Peter Raby, Pimlico pounds 10. As we set off on backpacking, trail-finding adventure holidays in the Third World, we are not so far from bygone European travellers and explorers. We too want to discover what is out there and how it is different from what we know. To be sure, for those earlier generations, without benefit of multi-terrain vehicles and the rest, these were really formidable journeys, and the questions were at least quasi-scientific, able to yield new data on geographical measurements, species, fossils, minerals, languages and primitive society. This is a short, witty and informative survey of men like Darwin, Huxley, Wallace and R L Stevenson, and of women like Mary Kingsley and the botanist Marianne North. There's a misnomer in the subtitle, though: not all of Raby's subjects were truly scientists. Each, however, was certainly a pilgrim seeking enlightenment.

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