Paperbacks: Reviewed

The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith by Peter Carey (Faber, pounds 5.99)

Endowed with one of the most prodigious imaginations in modern fiction, Carey sets this disturbing fantasy on two imaginary islands, each with an invented culture, patois and technology. The first half concerns the birth and early years of the severely disabled hero in a quirky theatrical family. In the second half, he adopts a weird persona (a mythical mouse) in a broken-down travelling circus. It's an odd but compelling work, with traces of Sterne, Borges and Angela Carter.

Ghosts of Manila by James Hamilton-Paterson (Vintage, pounds 5.99)

Beneath Manila's photochemical haze, a police inspector pursues a female gangster running a drugs and child-kidnapping syndicate. Tangentially involved are two English interlopers, an anthropologist and an archaeologist, attempting in separate ways to dig beneath the city's teeming surface. The storylines rarely mesh, but the result is an utterly enthralling portrait of one of the world's most corrupt cities, with journalistic set-pieces in superb cool prose.

Murderers and Other Friends by John Mortimer (Penguin, pounds 6.99)

A hour of TV drama, the author informs us, should ideally contain three plots. This collection of memories follows similar lines, oscillating between courtroom (appealing villains, outlandish judges), family (Lear- like father, under-appreciated mother) and showbiz (Niven, a delight, Rex Harrison, a shit). Always entertaining, these breezy recollections are unrevealing about the author. Can he really be as genial as all that? Former partner Penelope said otherwise.

The English Pub: A History by Peter Haydon (Hale, pounds 11.99)

"A tavern chair is the throne of human felicity," declared Dr Johnson. Even then, the golden age of the tavern was at an end, ousted by gaudy gin palaces. Afterwards came any number of short-lived fashions, such as the craze for multi-barred premises in the 1870s. Whatever the fads of big brewers, the humble ale-house survived. Or it did until recently, when the pub reached a nadir in the hands of marketing men. Towards the end, Haydon's sober account of the boozer turns into a lament.

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston (Corgi pounds 4.99)

Remember the Ebola virus, which caused a worldwide frisson last year? Just days after infection, its victims became viral bombs. Originating as a New Yorker article, Preston's pursuit of the ghastly bug is the most addictive read you'll come across this year. Yet, even for the unsqueamish, some parts are virtually unreadable. Far from new, Ebola is one of the world's oldest organisms. On the plus side, outbreaks are rare and quickly burn out. But for sheer horror, fictional monsters don't compare.

A Time of Terror by James Cameron (Writers and Readers, pounds 7.99)

Though present at the time, the author is not included in the infamous cover photo, dating from 1930, showing two recently lynched black men. James Cameron was due to join them, a noose already round his neck, when he was saved at the last moment by the intervention of an unknown woman. Sixty years on, he has published his own graphic account of the incident. Each moment is vividly recalled and his indignation remains understandably white-hot. Mothers and Other Lovers by Joanna Briscoe (Phoenix, pounds 5.99)

As with first-time novelists of her generation, Joanna Briscoe's territory is Seventies family life, where parents are known by their first names, and A-levels are a matter of choice. The Strachans have decamped to the West Country, and Eleanor, 17, finds herself trapped in the fuggy proximity of her too-laid-back parents. Her frustration and misery are captured with shocking physicality and nerve.

I'm Here I Think, Where are You? Letters from a Touring Actor by Timothy West (Coronet Books, pounds 5.99)

This collection contains only one side of the "torrid correspondence" between Timothy West and his wife Prunella Scales over 31 years of touring - the less interesting side. A better actor than writer, West delivers his strangely colourless insights with the careful jocularity of a Forties radio announcer. Let's hope they don't speak to each other like that at home.

The Lost Heart of Asia by Colin Thubron (Penguin, pounds 6.99)

In this account of his experiences in central Asia, Colin Thubron takes you on journeys to places so strange you've never heard of them, and introduces you to people so inscrutable they have the quality of creatures in a fairy tale. Thubron's quiet voice never gets in the way of his landscapes: vast radioactive steppes, rose-coloured mountains and knotty beetroot fields.

True Romance by Helen Zahavi (Minerva, pounds 5.99)

The grimy little girl from Bratislava likes the hushed plushness of Max's London flat. She even likes it when he plunges her head under the bubble bath. Even better when his friend turns up and both of them take turns unzipping their flies. That the author is a woman supposedly makes the heroine's pleasure in humiliation okay, but the tale, told in the dissociated voice of a pornographer, palls after a couple of scenarios.

The Grass Dancer by Susan Power (Picador, pounds 5.99)

Set under the low skies of North Dakota, this novel opens with a traditional powwow on a Sioux reservation. Through the stories of several generations of Thunderers and Wind Soldiers, Susan Power, like Louise Erdrich, interweaves past and present, magic and realism. Modern-day Native Americans may go to Stanford and drive pick-up trucks, but through the rustling grasses the voices of their ancestors still sing.

Debrett's Guide to Bereavement by Charles Mosley (Headline, pounds 7.99)

Can you bury your beloved in the back garden? And what do you do if you move house and want to take the bones with you? The answers to practical questions like these do not faze Mosley in this straightforward guide. But be warned: while Castle Howard may be able to get away with a mausoleum, burying a body underneath your asparagus patch will reduce the asking price of most ordinary semis.

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships