Paperbacks

<i>Food</i> by Clarissa Dickson Wright | <i>Waiting</i> by Ha Jin | <i>Losing Nelson </i>by Barry Unsworth
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The Independent Culture

Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright (Ebury, £14.99, 320pp) Even before you tuck in, this anthology fulfils the first requirement of any banquet. It is great to look at. Clarissa may not care one way or another, but the Norman Rockwell paintings which pop up on several pages are much in vogue as a result of a US retrospective. As with her offerings on Two Fat Ladies, Clarissa's literary selections are nutritious and eclectic, ranging from Fanny Craddock's droll recipe for prawn cocktail to a haunting and, finally, a horrific account of a meal in the trenches from Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms.

Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright (Ebury, £14.99, 320pp) Even before you tuck in, this anthology fulfils the first requirement of any banquet. It is great to look at. Clarissa may not care one way or another, but the Norman Rockwell paintings which pop up on several pages are much in vogue as a result of a US retrospective. As with her offerings on Two Fat Ladies, Clarissa's literary selections are nutritious and eclectic, ranging from Fanny Craddock's droll recipe for prawn cocktail to a haunting and, finally, a horrific account of a meal in the trenches from Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms.

Chapter headings include "Iguana" ("good, very good, to eat"), "Kerosene" and "Harems". Under "Drugs", we're given Alice B Toklas's recipe for Hashish Fudge, while "Snoek" reveals that the war-time stand-by tasted "like a mackerel, only more so". George Orwell's views in "Unemployment" are as true now as they were in the Thirties: "The peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food."

Many great names of gastronomic writing are represented, including Jane Grigson on salt pork, MFK Fisher on offal, Elizabeth David on toast and Anna de Conte on truffles. Sadly, Jeffrey Steingarten's wonderfully extreme The Man Who Ate Everything must have appeared too late for inclusion. Less explicable exclusions are AJ Liebling (oddly, the cover illustration from his work Between Meals does make an appearance) and the great Italophile Burton Anderson. Where the book fails is in the humour dept, unless Monty Python's Spam song or Roald Dahl's "Recipe for Wonka-Vite" make you fall about. Still, at 15 quid, this literary blow-out is a bargain. CH

Waiting by Ha Jin (Vintage, £6.99, 308pp) Every summer Lin Kong returns to Goose Village to divorce his wife; each summer she refuses. Set during and after the Cultural Revolution, Ha Jin's astute romance relates the progress of an 18-year affair between a married doctor and his enthusiastic mistress. Lin's wife plants eggplants and lettuces, Lin's mistress supplies him with candies and opera tickets. As the book closes, the two lovers finally get what they wish for, with mixed results. A fascinating glimpse into civilian and army life in rural China, and the perils of slurping your noodles.

Losing Nelson by Barry Unsworth (Penguin, £6.99, 313pp) The protagonsit of Barry Unsworth's latest novel shares some of the more autistic tendencies of a trainspotter. Charles Cleasby is obsessed by Horatio Nelson. He compulsively re-enacts the great man's naval battles on a blue baize pool table in his basement, and is in the throws of writing a biography. Not only is Nelson his hero, but his alter ego, and when his research threatens to debunk his idol, Cleasby's own sense of self is cast even further adrift. Weird and exciting, with some painfully comic moments, this is Unsworth's most accessible novel to date.

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