Paperbacks: Reviews

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The Independent Culture
Loitering with Intent: the apprentice by Peter O'Toole (Pan, pounds 6.99) The second episode of O'Toole's weird and wonderful biography covers his rackety years at stage school - he describes himself as "eyelashless at Rada" after a houseboat stove blew up. Into this brilliantly coloured stream of consciousness, he weaves a parallel life of Edmund Keane. Modesty is not Peter's forte. He can be oddly reticent, as of his girlfriend: "Pocahontas was my fancy, that is all you need to know." But the book is full of marvels, such as his transporting a double bed by tube.

The Last of the Savages by Jay McInerney (Penguin, pounds 6.99) Nowhere near as good as Bright Lights, Big City or Brightness Falls, McInerney's first southern novel lacks the author's usual New York edge. A classic tale of two school buddies - one posh and wayward, one aspiring and bookish - and a long, hot summer in the Mississippi delta spent discovering sex, black soul music and hard liquor. A would-be modern Great Gatsby.

Interplay: a kind of commonplace book by DJ Enright (Oxford, pounds 9.99) These spiky snippets by the poet and academic reveal a well-read mind at play. His pensees on Proust sit alongside delighted quotations from Coronation Street. Interwoven with the opinions and erudition, there is much hilarity, such as the letter "from a male person": "Dear D Enright, Can you be the vivacious Dorothy Enright I met on a cruise to South Africa five years ago? Do you remember those nights on deck, gazing at the moon? You didn't tell me you wrote poems but I should have guessed ..." This is a book of bits and bobs for the most refined sort of lavatory.

The Hours of the Night by Sue Gee (Arrow, pounds 5.99) Sue Gee's characters may be sipping rose-hip tisanes and listening incessantly to Radio 4, but inside they nurse passions worthy of a Bronte sister. Set in a remote community in the Welsh borders, the novel charts the emotional growth of three difficult individuals: Gillian, an eccentric poet, Edward, a gay civil servant turned sheep farmer, and Nesta, a young widow starting over.

Thomas Mann by Anthony Heilbut (Papermac, pounds 12) Heilbut begins this bulky but endlessly stimulating critical biography with the admission that he was "astonished to find how low Mann's stock had fallen". Surprisingly this daunting literary Titan proves to be a wonderful subject. Heilbut probes Mann's tormented relationship with brother Heinrich, his uncomfortable years of exile in Los Angeles and, above all, the dark homoerotic urges behind the facade of a bourgeois paterfamilias. Death in Venice emerges as a roman a clef: "Virtually every detail was based on fact." An excellent, much-needed revaluation.

The Beach by Alex Garland (Penguin, pounds 5.99) It's every backpacker's dream to discover the perfect beach. And Alex Garland makes smart use of this tantalising mirage in his much-hyped first novel. The story of Richard, a young Londoner who stumbles off the pages of his Lonely Planet guide and into an earthly paradise of blue lagoons, white sands and doped-up hippies, is told with Blytonesque enthusiasm. The Secret of the Island for grown-ups, complete with hidden airstrips and underwater caves.