Paperbacks: Reviews

I Came, I Saw by Norman Lewis (Picador, pounds 7.99) The wonderfully odd, compulsive autobiography (originally titled Jackdaw Cake) by the maestro of travel writing has been expanded by 50 pages in this new edition. The extraordinary facts of his long life - a childhood with spooky spiritualist parents in Enfield, marriage into a family of Sicilian exiles with Mafia connections - are greatly enhanced by Lewis's deadpan delivery, illuminated by flashes of black humour. New material includes a spell in Italy in the Sixties; a typically Lewisian Arcadia tainted by drugs, kidnapping and poor hygiene.

The Devil: A Biography by Peter Stanford (Mandarin, pounds 7.99) It seems that the Devil not only has the best tunes but the best books as well. This sober, intelligent account reveals that the Devil is entirely a Christian creation (he is scarcely mentioned in the Old Testament), made "credible and compelling" by Milton. But diabolic parallels have appeared through human history. Stanford traces the various incarnations of the dark presence from the Crusades and the Cathar Heresy to Waco, Texas, and the Manson "Family". Satan, he astutely suggests, "lives on as a way of dealing with [the] unspeakable, unimaginable or intangible."

London: A Social History by Roy Porter (Penguin, pounds 15.00) Piquant as a Hogarth etching, every page of this vast panorama glitters with luxuriant detail. Fused Roman coins testify to the fury of Boadica's revolt in AD61, while in 1666 the Lord Mayor remarked of another great fire, "a woman could piss it out". Porter suggests that London's "hour on the stage" lasted from 1570 to 1986, encompassing 18th century pleasures - an average of two pints of gin per week for every living soul - and hectic Victorian industry. In a furious conclusion, he insists that Thatcher's "balkanisation of the metropolis" has been London's greatest disaster.

Leading the Blind by Alan Sillitoe (Papermac, pounds 9.00) Sillitoe has discovered a rich vein of unconscious humour in the guidebooks produced for doughty 19th century tourists. After offering advice ("a portable india-rubber bath is an immense comfort") and phrases in four languages ("I am very much inclined to vomit"), the guides plied readers with staggering detail. In Germany, we are told the exact wounds suffered by Gustavus Adolphus in 1632 ("five gunshots, two cuts, one stab"), while in Karachi we learn that a British officer crossed a crocodile tank by running across their backs. The armchair traveller won't find a more enjoyable read this year.

A User's Guide to the Millennium by J G Ballard (Flamingo, pounds 6.99) Culled from over 30 years output, this breezy assemblage of essays and reviews fizzles with subversive intelligence. More than footnotes to a brilliant, disturbing oeuvre, this is critical journalism of a high order. While damning Star Wars and devaluing Joyce's Ulysses ("curiously lacking in imagination"), Ballard lauds Blue Velvet and Sade's The 120 Days of Sodom ("a black cathedral"). A brief coda to Empire of the Sun is a highlight of the book. Following his bizarre childhood, the outre has become the ordinary for Ballard. Across an astonishing range, his ironic slant is ceaselessly stimulating.

Tchaikovsky by Anthony Holden (Bantam, pounds 9.99) No composer fulfills romantic expectations of the tortured artist better than Tchaikovsky - and none offers the biographer richer pickings in terms of mystery, scandal and tragedy on an operatic scale. His life was marked by manic creativity and depressive moods, a string of homosexual affairs, a disastrous marriage followed by a breakdown, a doomed infatuation with his 13-year-old nephew and an ambiguous death - was it cholera, as officially stated, or suicide? Anthony Holden weighs the evidence with admirable sanity, and concludes that Tchaikovsky did indeed kill himself at the behest of a secret "court of honour" rather than face public prosecution for sodomy.

Driving My Father by Susan Wicks (Faber, pounds 6.99) This sensitive family memoir by the poet Susan Wicks charts the decline of her elderly father following her mother's death. It's in a similar vein to Blake Morrison's And When Did You Last See Your Father?, but its tone is warmer and more touching. Where Morrison was objective and detached, Wicks's prose shimmers with subjectivity. She has a poet's ability to invest emotional meaning in inaminate objects and to capture the intensity of the individual moment, whether she's giving us a brilliant shard of childhood memory or suddenly catching herself looking into the future.

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk