<b><i>Raw Creation</i> by John Maizels (Phaidon, &pound;19.95, 240pp) | <i>Mapping the Edge</i> by Sarah Dunant (Warner, &pound;5.99, 408pp) | <i>Night and Horses and the Desert</i> by Robert Irwin (Penguin, &pound;9.99, 480pp)</b>
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The Independent Culture

Raw Creation by John Maizels (Phaidon, £19.95, 240pp)

Raw Creation by John Maizels (Phaidon, £19.95, 240pp)

It is instructive to compare this stunning compendium of outsider art with the much ballyhooed works in the Royal Academy's Sensation and Apocalypse exhibitions. If you thought Tracey Emin's tent, embroidered with the names of her lovers, was an innovatory artistic expression, take a look at the jacket on page 15 stitched with mysterious messages early this century by a mental patient called Agnes Richter. The Chapman Brothers' vision of Hell, which is the centre-piece of the Apocalypse show, was anticipated by Hermon Finney (1931-88) an American clairvoyant, who constructed tableaux of "an operating theatre, a torture chamber and Hell itself". Forty years before the image was made famous by Warhol, a can of Campbell's tomato soup dominates a 1929 collage by Adolf Wolfli, "a creative genius" who spent much of his life in mental hospitals. Drawings from the same period by another patient, Julie Bar, could easily be by Saul Steinberg, the New Yorker's star artist. According to Maizels, there is one big difference between outsiders and mainstream: "Even today, few art museums are prepared to accept such works in their collections."

To be fair, the most impressive outsider works couldn't fit in museums. Clarence Schmidt (1897-1978) created a seven-storey House of Mirrors built around a one-room log cabin which was destroyed by fire in 1968, but can be seen in a photograph on page 181. Still with us is the vast accumulation of sculptures created by Nek Chand in Chandigarh, India. Compared to such prodigious works, Gregor Schneider's claustrophobic cellar reconstructed for the Apocalypse show appears weedy both in scale and conception. CH

Mapping the Edge by Sarah Dunant (Warner, £5.99, 408pp)

When single mum Anna Franklin fails to return from an illicit weekend in Florence, friends and family fear the worse. And they're right to do so. Locked up in a remote eerie with a Tuscan psycho, Anna is forced to share her captor's salami laden-table and admire his photographic gallery of dark-haired beauties and poised young women. Smartly written, with some nice insights into motherhood and female desire, Dunant's atmospheric chiller keeps you guessing to the final flight call. Her best novel to date.

Night and Horses and the Desert by Robert Irwin (Penguin, £9.99, 480pp)

This trawl of Arabic writing from the 5th-16th centuries forms an unusually absorbing anthology. Irwin wishes to give "a taste of the authentic strangeness" of medieval Arabia. This is true of Shaharazad's seductive yarns in The 1001 Nights, but an assault on ninth-century rock chicks is distinctly modern in its upfrontness: "the singing girl is hardly ever sincere in her passion". Same goes for an 11th-century princess's view of a faithless lover: "They'll call you the Hexagon.../ Pederast, pimp, adulterer/ Gigolo, cuckold, cheat."