Click to follow
The Independent Culture
! The Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France by Robert Darnton, HarperCollins pounds 12.99. There were entire departments of ancien- regime French government whose sole mission was to deny readers and retailers access to popular books - ie, anything remotely critical of the King, Church or conventional morality. Some hope. This was a huge trade, a little of it samizdat, but mostly proper books smuggled from abroad. Their covert trade-name of "philosophical" literature coded for a variety of genres, the heavy-hitting tomes of Enlightenment thought (Rousseau, Diderot, Voltaire) rubbing spines with court tittle-tattle and pornography. Discussing the trade with easy charm and wit, Darnton assesses its impact on the political situation. Edifying modern parallels - Radio Caroline, Olympia Press, Child's Play 3 - are left to us.

! The Devil's Carousel by Jeff Torrington, Minerva pounds 6.99. The circular ride of the title is the assembly line at the Centaur Car Company, where Torrington sets this very lively and funny sequence of linked sketches. Here we meet the likes of Wormsley the doomed night-shift worker, Brogan, the shoppie who fakes his own death for a joke, Cutter the manager "who looked like a smudged hologram of Adolf Hitler", and Supersnipe Haskins, the much-hated Security Chief. Its narrative punctuated by the sarky comments of KIKBAK, an anarchist scandal-sheet, this novel describes a farcical male world, celebrated with a natural verbal panache. Almost a Scots Catch-22.

! The Fatal Englishman: Three Short Lives by Sebastian Faulks, Vintage pounds 6.99. The subtitle is a little joke, its variation on Aubrey's Brief Lives being also the key to Faulks's three died-before-their-time subjects. Kit Wood was a highly promising 1920s artist who jumped under a train at 29 (his full-length biog by Richard Ingleby was reviewed here last month). Richard Hillary was a Battle of Britain pilot who, at 22, wrote a poetic book about Spitfire glory and disaster, The Last Enemy, before crashing in a Bleinheim, whose controls his previously crippled hands couldn't properly hold. Jeremy Wolfenden was an All Soul's Fellow, foreign correspondent and fringe player of the espionage game. His comet fizzled out in an ignominious alcoholic death at the age of 31. There are no detailed links between all three men: Wood and Hillary were half-formed artists; Wood and Wolfenden were bisexual and substance-dependent; Hillary and Wolfenden were magnetic, super-confident personalities. Faulks's title may suggest that all three were marked by malign fate, but his text doesn't seriously entertain any such romantic tosh.

! Terrors and Experts by Adam Phillips, Faber pounds 6.99. Once, to be educated was to look up to Freud as to a big brother, but not any more. Instead, we have the new reductionism, in which mind becomes "mind", a symptom of existence. Perhaps in the light of the shrinking reputation of shrinkdom, Phillips - a psychoanalyst himself - feels that most analysts have been barking up the wrong Freudian trouser-leg. He wants to see psychoanalysis take itself less seriously, embrace "disorder", acknowledge its slips and errors and generally put the "slapstick back in our lives". The Freudian view of life, like Zen, has always thrived on jokes and paradoxes. Phillips's implication is that the more it tries to justify itself on conventional indices of logic, the bigger the pratfall it will take.

! Trick of Light by Jill Dawson, Sceptre pounds 6.99. Rita has emptied the building society to follow her man from Dalston to a tumbledown shack halfway up a mountain in Washington State, where she hopes to realise a half-arsed simple-life fantasy that includes panning for gold. But we know Rita and her toddler daughter are in trouble. Life on the mountain with Mick is damned beautiful, but mostly just damned. His violence teaches Rita a lesson about the fatal attractions of macho men. "A man who loves himself - how exhilarating. Except it always turns out they never do." ! Mrs Keppel and Her Daughter by Diana Souhami, Flamingo pounds 6.99. Mrs Keppel was the mistress of Edward VII in the last years of his life, a witty, calculating woman who made sure that she was paid vastly well. Her daughter, Violet Trefusis, was a flamboyant lesbian who got up to daring Sapphic pranks with Vita Sackville-West before entering a long decline as a writer of awful novels. Souhami declares that she wrote the double biography to "vindicate" Violet, the clear villainess of Nigel Nicolson's Portrait of a Marriage. It is clear, however, that mother and daughter had one thing in common at least. Both treated their husbands with casual disregard, especially Violet, whose cruelty towards poor shell-shocked Denys Trefusis is hard to forgive.

! Watermark by Joseph Brodsky, Penguin pounds 6.99. This slender but discursive book is a tribute from Brodsky to Venice where, after all, reflection is forced on you. The Russian poet and 1987 Nobel prizewinner, who died last year at 56, fell for the city from distant Leningrad as a teenager and repeatedly consummated his passion on subsequent winter visits. At times, Brodsky hams it up disgracefully as a poet in the throes of inspiration, but many of his reflections sparkle in compensation.

Colour me beautiful: Heather Hogan was born in 1977. Her eerily touched-up - and untitled - black-and-white portraits are featured in Twenty-Five and Under (Norton pounds 17.95), a collection of work from young photographers, edited by Alice Rose George