Paperbacks: Alone! Alone! Lives of Some Outsider Women
The Truth About Sascha Knisch
The Intellectual
The Seymour Tapes
Adrift in Caledonia
The Case of the Missing Books


Alone! Alone! Lives of Some Outsider Women, by Rosemary Dinnage (NYRB £8.99)

In her introduction Dinnage confesses that she is "very ignorant of 'women's studies' and 'gender politics'", putting it down to her being the from the wrong generation (she was a child of the 1940s) and "even the wrong nationality". It's an interesting starting point for someone seeking to trawl history for memorable female loners - why would anyone embark on such a project without some sort of political motivation? The reason lies in Dinnage's long career as a writer and reviewer on topics as diverse as child-care and biography. The characters she has chosen suggested themselves from this welter of material, rather than arrived via lengthy research trails.

The women are divided into six groups: Solitaries, Partners and Muses, Seers, Exotics, Reinventors and Trapped, of which the last category is the only one to really contain individuals who might be called victims. From "Exotics", for instance, writers like Enid Blyton and Marie Stopes achieved isolation more through driving ambition than anything else. Dinnage's real strength as a writer comes from the vast store of knowledge she seems to have at her command. During a discussion on witches, for example, she tells us how "Freud, as he wrote magic and religion out of psychology, had a secret love affair with his collection of archaic statues, and brought back scriptural symbolism in another shape." Whatever its aims, this slightly eccentric book offers many thoughts as to why women often found it impossible to compete with men.

The Truth About Sascha Knisch, by Aris Fioretos (CAPE £12.99)

This is the kind of novel that's hard to review without giving something away; author Fioretos steadily reveals the secrets of his lengthy riddle from very early on. Set in Germany during the 1920s the book serves up murder mystery, farce and sexual fantasies in equal measure. Knisch, a part-time cinema projectionist, used to visit a woman called Dora to act out his desires; needless to say, these are a long way from standard hetero fare. Eventually their relationship developed beyond business transactions but, because of his dishonesty, she left him. The novel picks up just after the two have become reacquainted. Knisch goes to visit her, hoping she might still regard him as more than just a client, but finds she requires payment if he wants her company. In a state of undress he is forced to hide in a wardrobe while she answers the front door. After waiting for some considerable time, he lets himself out and makes a terrible discovery ...

Woven into this plot is a complex and subtle treatise on sexuality. Sascha describes to Dora in detail the various incidents from his life that may have shaped his sexual identity. His sister helped him dress up as her; the two of them would then present themselves to their mother: "Placing ourselves in front of each of the two sliding glass doors to the living room, we whispered through the milky glass: 'Here I am', 'Here I am' - and then in chorus: 'And who's who?'." A stylish, intelligent and eerily entertaining novel.

The Intellectual, by Steve Fuller (ICON £6.99)

It's hard to know what to make of Steve Fuller's guide to intellectuals. A breed of their own, he contends, they often find themselves arguing a case with strange allies - something he illustrates by pointing out how he contributed to the intelligent design saga in the US. Fuller spent six hours in the witness box testifying on behalf of the Creationists - sorry, intelligent design theorists - because he felt an important principle to do with the meaning of life (the Darwinian world-view means "each individual's existence is effectively casualised") was at stake. Being an intellectual, he says, means sticking with "the awkward squad".

This awkwardness extends throughout the book, making it hard sometimes to pin down the point he's trying to make. The four theses on intellectuals that he presents in the first half of the book contain so much information, presented in such an unsystematic fashion, that it's also difficult to know who he's trying to write for. Budding teenage intellectuals who want a bit of background on Socrates and the sophists? Writers and journalists desperate to find a slot on the Late Review where some notes on Adolf Eichmann might come in handy? Intellectuals, it seems, are different people from decent academics and philosophers, most of whom would know this stuff backwards. In his defence, Fuller is engaging and provocative and his intellectual acumen is never in doubt. That's the problem - it's difficult to read this book without thinking that the thing it promotes above all else is his career.

The Seymour Tapes, by Tim Lott (PENGUIN £7.99)

Dr Alex Seymour came to an unpleasant end in the "legendary" Skin Tapes - a video of his death. The tapes and this, Lott's account of the events leading up to their recording, are of course fictitious, but he does a very good job of convincing the reader otherwise. In a short preface he describes how Seymour's wife, Samantha, approached him after her husband's death asking if he would write a book about her family and Sherry Thomas, the woman held responsible for Alex's demise. What follows incorporates transcripts of taped interviews with Samantha, secret video tapes Alex made of his family after approaching Thomas at her firm, Cyclops Surveillance Systems, and tapes of Alex filmed at Thomas's flat. During the course of all these it transpires that, following a series of domestic problems, Alex became obsessed with achieving peace of mind. Sherry Thomas, it seemed to him, was able to offer this through her discreet surveillance systems. Gradually, though, he was drawn to her, visiting her flat and watching some of her thousands of video tapes. For the last 20 years she's filmed herself almost every day. Among the recordings are scenes of her having sex with a boyfriend and extreme activities which she says were filmed at gunpoint.

In spite of all the recordings, Lott shows how easily taped events can be manipulated. Reality TV shows rely on this, CCTV systems operate with impunity in spite of it. Surprisingly funny, brutal as a boot in the face, but above all highly relevant in our surveillance-obsessed society.

Adrift in Caledonia, by Nick Thorpe (LITTLE, BROWN £12.99)

On a May morning Nick Thorpe left his Edinburgh flat with a simple plan in mind. Using a succession of boats he hoped to hitch his way around Scotland in a "crumpled clockwise circle". The trip would have an open-ended itinerary with three exceptions: a stint crewing a square-rigged sailing ship around the Outer Hebrides, a voyage with a group of men re-enacting St Columba's fourth-century voyage from Ireland to the island of Iona (this would involve dressing in a monk's robe and singing hymns while rowing), and re-visiting an island off the west coast that had been a childhood holiday haunt. The account of his journey, blending travelogue with memoir, is presented here with off-beat, self-depreciating humour. These are not the words of a salty sea dog - more a writer all at sea.

The voyage around the Outer Hebrides, for example, is approached with admirable vagueness. Thorpe knows he will have to work his passage, but is unsure precisely what this will involve. Seeing the "handsome two-masted, 100ft brigantine with a navy blue hull and one of those old-fashioned bowsprits" moored in Oban harbour he wanders towards her (boats are all female in this kind of adventure) with the theme from the Onedin Line playing in his head. Climbing aboard, however, the Pogues soon kick in when the bosun finds he only drinks occasionally ("What's the fecking point of that?") and doesn't smoke at all ("We'll have to educate you a little"). It beats all those tales of travel writers foot-slogging through exotic lands in search of profundity and enlightenment.

The Case of the Missing Books, by Ian Sansom (HARPER PERENNIAL £6.99)

Somewhere in this ocean of quirks flounders a slap-dash comic novel. Israel Armstrong, our humorously named fat, corduroy-clad Jewish hero arrives in Northern Ireland to take up a position as the Tumdrum and District librarian. In spite of a degree from "one of the best former polytechnics turned universities in the country", his previous employment has been limited to a stint at a City Law firm's library, gained via his lawyer girlfriend, and three years at "a discount bookshop in the Lakeside Shopping Centre in Thurrock, off the M25, in Essex", so this job is important to him.

Unfortunately Israel finds that the library is being closed in favour of a mobile service which he is expected to operate. Cajoled into doing so by his boss, Linda Wei, "a big Chinese lady wearing little glasses and with a tub of Pringles on her desk", he finds that all of the library's 15,000 books have vanished. As librarian it's his job to get them back.

Any novel that begins with the word "no" repeated six times is unlikely to be an exercise in subtlety, but surely Sansom realises there's nothing less funny than an author who seems desperate to amuse? Israel finds himself lodging in a chicken coop at a farm run by a woman called George; when his suit gets burned he ends up wearing an NWA T-shirt ("Niggers With Attitude", as Sansom calls them - it's "Niggaz", but he doesn't seem to know the difference. At least we didn't get North West Airlines or the Nordic Web Archive.) There are some warm moments, but that may be because the book's so full of hot air.

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • 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.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence