Paperbacks: The Selected Works of Cyril Connolly<br></br>The Dedalus Book of the Occult<br></br>Story and Character<br></br>Seven Ages of Paris<br></br>Picasso's War<br></br>Eraure<br></br>Beware of Pity

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

The Selected Works of Cyril Connolly Volumes 1 & 2 ed Matthew Connolly (Picador £9.99 each (368 & 380pp))

This generous selection, edited by his son, appears intended to establish Cyril Connolly's reputation with a new generation of readers, rather than disinter forgotten gems. One third of both volumes is given over to his finest work, Enemies of Promise, though it is currently available as a single volume (Deutsch). Yet the selection contains only a dozen examples of his lead reviews from The Sunday Times. As William Boyd says in his foreword, these were obligatory reading in the late Sixties and early Seventies.

The first volume, devoted to literary matters, is the better. Connolly not only reminds us that Shaw wrote incomparably better journalism than Wilde, but also tells us why: "The secret of journalism is to write the way people talk." Connolly's survey of 20th-century style forms an essential primer for any would-be writer. In his colloquialism, self-obsession and fondness for drawing up lists, Connolly might be a top literary name of 2004, though his mirror-gazing grows wearing. At his best, Connolly is funny, astute, enthusiastic. Reviewing a late, minor book by Evelyn Waugh in which the novelist revealed that he preferred to "sit glumly" in his train compartment than visit the bars of Paris, Connolly notes: "This really is a bad sign." CH

The Dedalus Book of the Occult ed Bary Lachman (Dedalus £9.99 (378pp))

Brisk, workmanlike and lucid, this is a survey of "adventurous souls" whose output was the reverse: "often crazy, sometimes hilarious and, on occasion, clearly insane". Lachman's gallery of occultists ranges from the hypnotist Mesmer (1734-1815), whose salon had "an orgy-like atmosphere", through Goethe and Balzac (who achieved enlightenment by drinking an estimated 50,000 cups of coffee), to Algernon Blackwood, an early TV celebrity who wrote the original Starlight Express, and Aleister Crowley - aka the Great Beast 666. CH

Story and Character by Alistair Owen (Bloomsbury £7.99 (310pp))

Alistair Owen's interviews with 10 UK screenwriters are revealing, though they never reach the inspired brilliance of his earlier work, Smoking in Bed. Rupert Walters, who adapted Rose Tremain's Restoration, attacks her criticism of the film: "It's like building a house, selling it, then complaining about the new owner's furniture." William Boyd explains why his Gunpowder Plot script never made the screen: "Everybody at Universal was fired." Richard Curtis of Love Actually sees his failings as lack of structure and poor visual sense. Nothing about sentimentality. CH

Seven Ages of Paris by Alistair Horne (Pan £8.99 (520pp))

Pacy, authoritative, colourful, this biography is an obligatory acquisition for all Paris-lovers. Horne deftly recounts the way the city has oscillated between extremes of brutality and civilisation. Medieval Paris produced prodigious bloodshed but also the Sorbonne. Despite "anarchy and misery" in the 1650s, Paris enjoyed street lighting from 1667. Visiting in 1855, Queen Victoria noted how the streets had been tarmacked to prevent the cobbles being used as ammunition. The same tarry exercise was repeated after the événements of 1968. Plus ça change... CH

Picasso's War by Russell Martin (Pocket £7.99 (274pp))

In his ingenious biography of Picasso's Guernica, Martin turns up a host of fascinating detail. The bombing mission struck Guernica on a market day in 1937. In Paris, Picasso began sketching an "anguished horse" five days later. The vast, iconic mural was completed in just over a month. In London, it was displayed at the Whitechapel Gallery, accompanied by thousands of boots donated to Republican soldiers. After 40 years in New York, the painting was reluctantly dispatched to Madrid. Its power is undiminished. When Colin Powell argued for the Iraq war at UN headquarters, its copy was covered up. CH

Erasure by Percival Everett (Faber £7.99 (294pp))

Thelonius Ellison, a writer specialising in retellings of Euripides and parodies of French post-structuralists, is criticised by his peers for not being "black enough". Sick of the carping and desperate for cash, he knocks out "My Pafology", a blistering parody of ghetto literature later retitled "Fuck". ("'You lil motherfuckas ain't nuffin but human slough'" etc.) To his horror, it takes the literary world by storm. Everett deftly weaves this narrative of missed irony with one of secrets, lies and painful revelations. The result is intelligent and entertaining, but never quite fulfills its promise. CP

Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig (Pushkin £8.99 (365pp))

Pushkin's fine list of classics continues with the only novel by Viennese master Stefan Zweig. Written in the 1930s, Beware of Pity looks back in sad wonder to 1913, and the twilight of the tired Habsburg empire. A young Austrian officer inadvertently awakens the passion of a vulnerable girl. After a tragi-comedy of errors and delusions, his rule-bound honour code destroys what it purported to protect. Both a shrewd political parable, and a gorgeous period-piece. BT

Comments