PAPERBACKS

BY JONATHAN DYSON
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The Independent Culture
! A Social History of Madness by Roy Porter, Phoenix Giant pounds 8.99. The symptoms of madness may be the same down the ages, but, as Roy Porter shows in this entertaining and informative analysis, the definitions and treatments reflect the values and prejudices of the times. This is a book about madness as experienced by the mad and told largely through their moving autobiographical writings. As Porter says, "When we read the writings of the mad, we gain an enhanced insight into the sheer range of what could be thought and felt, at the margins". In the 15th century Margery Kempe, plagued with "abominable visions", could claim "divine madness"and market herself accordingly as a mystic. Centuries later a troubled Virginia Woolf was given a "rest cure" (kept in a darkened room and "fed up" on cold rice pudding): not surprisingly she became considerably more depressed. Nowadays you are anaesthetised with pills or, if you're middle-class, put through the expensive mortifications of therapy. And then if you're really mad and a threat to yourself or society, you're simply dumped on the streets and left to rot. You would be hard pressed to say that things had got any better.

! A Fez of the Heart by Jeremy Seal, Picador pounds 6.99. If you can get beyond the terrible punning title, you're in for a gripping travelogue. Seal has journeyed the length and breadth of Turkey to tell the story of the fez, which he sees as the story of the making of modern Turkey. The fez was first introduced, by law, in the 1820s as a replacement for the turban, which was seen as too Eastern and Muslim-looking. As a concession to the religious authorities, a silk tassle was added: symbolic of the single hair by which devout Muslims are effortlessly raised to Paradise by Allah. Later the fez itself was outlawed, again to satisfy the same secular aspirations. Despite its best efforts, however, Turkey remains caught between East and West, uncertain about which direction to take next. Seal writes seamlessly, weaving his own journey and encounters with vivid historical digressions.

! Adolf's Revenge by Lynne Alexander, Abacus pounds 8.99. Reading Lynne Alexander's latest novel is like entering a very disturbed mind. Its narrator, Adolf, is a woman, so named because she has a moustache like Hitler's. Adolf is angry, very angry, because her beloved niece Chick has been seduced by the man known as The Prince. Adolf rains down curses on him - "a baldness on his head"- and ominously quotes the Psalms - "put not your trust in princes"- but can she do anything, or get her revenge on The Prince and on men in general? This anti-fairy tale told through the fractured and often very funny thoughts of a disturbed American Holocaust survivor creates a magical world.

! Personal Perspectives by Brian Redhead, HarperCollins pounds 6.99. For some the late Brian Redhead will forever be the authentic voice of Radio 4's Today programme, assailing politicians and cutting through pretension. For others he was a smug Northern bore. This collection of journalism from the past decade is unlikely to change anybody's opinion. The pieces cover everything from Manchester's bid to host the Olympics, one of Redhead's great causes, to articles in praise of cats, rambling, railways and marmalade - but they betray their journalistic origins in being too dependent on specific current events. For those whose morning routine has never recovered from his passing, however, this collection may provide some comfort.

! Saint Rachel by Michael Bracewell, Vintage pounds 5.99. If you've read those articles which tell you Prozac is the new wonder drug then perhaps you're ready for this antidote. Thirty-year-old John is on a cocktail of pills including Prozac, propranolol and diazepam. But instead of helping him cope with the breakdown of his relationship with Anne, they propel him further into a fug of depression and malaise. Told in the first person and through the eyes of friends, relatives and eventually Anne, we follow John's journey down and then partly back up again with the help of Rachel, herself deeply disturbed. Described as "the first Prozac novel of the 1990s", it's really just another "end of the affair" novel, but it is tightly written and paints a bleak and convincing picture of a well-heeled segment of modern society.

! The Rape of Sita by Lindsey Collen, Minerva pounds 6.99. On its initial publication in Mauritius in 1993 Collen's second novel was banned because religious fundamentalists objected to the title's use of the name of the sacred Hindu deity, but went on to win a 1994 Commonwealth Writers Prize. The story of Sita's rape, told by her friend Iqbal, the Umpire, has echoes of ancient myths and folk tales and comes to symbolise continuing forms of oppression and powerlessness. The style is conversational and rambling, with many apparent dead ends and digressions in Iqbal's telling, but shot through with lyricism as Sita takes centre-stage. A tragic and heroic tale.

! The Uses of Disorder, Personal Identity and City Life by Richard Sennett, Faber pounds 9.99. Feel alienated by city life? Don't know your neighbours? Frightened to go out after dark? Want to pack it all in and become a crofter? According to Sennett, the problem with city life is that we all work, live and play in our own little boxes, never coming into contact with anybody else, and this ignorance of "otherness" leads to fear and prejudice. His solution is a controlled form of anarchy: get rid of central controls on planning and schooling; get back to the micro level and let everybody sort out how to run their neighbourhoods themselves; force people into contact with each other and break down the barriers. It's rather idealistic, with all the elegance of an election manifesto and, sadly, about as much conviction. Or maybe I've just been stuck in my box for too long.

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