! Moo by Jane Smiley, Flamingo pounds 6.99. One of the great functions of a university is to nurture conflicts that echo or prefigure the battles of the larger world. In the campus comedies of Lodge or Updike this makes for fine if genial satire, and Moo - set in the American Mid-West - is a cracking example of the genre. From page one we are aware of the guerrilla warfare between the college's horticulturalists and the Animal Science people. And, at other levels too, Smiley observes the timeless set-to between meat and veg. With thematic horizons as wide as the wheat belt - politics, art, religion and manners as well as food - and a cast as long as the Interstate highway, the book's best element is its poised humour, always rich and satisfying.
! Muhammed: A Biography of the Prophet by Karen Armstrong, Gollancz pounds 7.99. Armstrong , a former nun, was until recently "entirely ignorant" of Islam. Now she feels it has "important things to teach us", so this is a largely sympathetic biography of the founder of what may be the world's fastest growing religion. Mohammed was a deeply spiritual man, but he directed much of his energy into political activity - the domination of Arabia and the reform of its society. So while he was willing to die for his faith, the politician in him was "ready to compromise on inessentials" - a fact which needs to be grasped about the career of Khomeini (and others of his ilk). But, even without its modern relevance (including a gloss on the Rushdie affair), this is a compelling enough story for any thinking person's bedside.
! The Earth Made of Glass by Robert Edric, Picador pounds 5.99. In this short and spooky historical detective story set in 1691, Edric's Inquisitor travels to a remote North of England village to discover the truth about an abandoned plot of land and a girl's death more than 30 years before. His hesitant, slow-burning investigation uncovers layers of guilt and fear in the community, where witchcraft is much whispered about. Murder and a miniature peasant's revolt is a more likely possibility but hard evidence is a different matter in a village where suspicion and superstition amount to much the same thing. There are superficial similarities to Umberto Eco, but Edric tells the tale without dazzle and display, settling instead for sober-suited, puritan brevity.
! Prince Eddy and the Homosexual Underworld by Theo Aronson, John Murray pounds 13.99. During a short, intense period of publicity in the 1970s, Prince Albert Victor (Eddy) - Queen Victoria's grandson and second in line to succeed her - was believed to have been Jack the Ripper. Aronson's portrayal of this "dozy, well-intentioned" princeling proves what moonshine that idea is in a witty narrative that well illustrates the gullibility of newspaper readers. Prince Eddy's homosexuality and his involvement in the Cleveland Street gay brothel scandal is another matter; Aronson claims that Eddy did indeed visit Cleveland Street. Among many sidelights on the Victorian gay underground, he explains why the continual exchange of meaningless telegrams was not a trivial pursuit for "Uranian" gentlemen.
Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work by Deborah Tannen, Virago pounds 8.99. Two earlier studies by this streetwise linguistics professor have been about private talk and the beliefs and feelings it reveals about gender. Here we have a companion volume on language, sex and power in the workplace. In private, an individual sense of self can lead in many directions, but at work the map is more familiar: we are on show and seeking to appear to others in a favourable light. This forces many men into predictable stereotypes of masculinity: bullying and harassing weaker colleagues, turning work into a series of showdowns. What does it do to women? Despite 30 years of feminism Tannen finds them still accommodating themselves to male employment lore.Reuse content