Paperbacks: White Savage<br/> The Sportswriter<br/> Between Salt Water and Holy Water<br/> She May Not Leave<br/> Close Up and Personal<br/> The Dark Part of Me<br/> Further Under the Duvet

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The Independent Culture

White Savage, by Fintan O'Toole (FABER £9.99 (402pp))

It soon becomes apparent on reading Fintan O'Toole's life of William Johnson - a forgotten figure in the history of British colonisation of America - that more than a basic mastery of period politics will be required. Born in Dublin in 1715, as a youth Johnson converted to the Hanoverian cause, and emigrated to America just in time for some of the most intense skirmishes between French and British forces. He enlisted on the British side, and was eventually responsible for recruiting the Iroquois, the League of Six Nations, to the imperial cause. A wealthy landowner in New York, Johnson, like so many early colonists, turned native, enjoying a harem of Iroquois mistresses, while also maintaining a German lover, Catherine Weisenberg, and romancing a French beauty, Angelique Cuillerier. Although Johnson has since been romanticised as a free-spirited "white savage", his transactions with the indigenous population were disappointingly pragmatic. He paid the Indians half what other men were paid, and exploited friendly relations. While O'Toole overlabours Johnson's affinity with the oppressed locals - his Jacobite roots making him a natural outsider - his portrait of this frock-coated "Mohawk" has much to say about intriguing cultural clashes and the beginnings of Irish-American history. EH

The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford (BLOOMSBURY £7.99 (367pp))

As Ford's fans look forward to The Lay of the Land, Bloomsbury gives new readers the chance to catch up with the earlier volumes in his towering trilogy. In The Sportswriter (1986), we enter the brilliantly-depicted world of his sharp-eyed, self-doubting, divorced New Jersey Everyman, Frank Bascombe, and follow his post-journalism suburban life (and move into real-estate) a decade later in Independence Day (also £7.99). Fabulously rich in insight and observation, these are defining novels of modern US culture - but hugely enjoyable as well. Better than Updike? Read and decide. BT

Between Salt Water and Holy Water, by Tommaso Astarita (NORTON £10.99 (352pp))

Although a thriving centre of Greek, Arab and medieval civilisation, southern Italy has often looked like a basket-case to outsiders over the past 400 years. This admirably lucid narrative history turns a welcome spotlight on the past glories of Sicily, Naples and Calabria, explains how scheming Popes, Spanish kings, feudal landlords and (of course) mafiosi turned the region into "paradise inhabited by devils", and looks ahead to a brighter future. From Muslim Palermo to Enlightenment Naples, Astarita sets works, and people, of genius against the misdeeds of grandees or godfathers. BT

She May Not Leave, by Fay Weldon (HARPERPERENNIAL £7.99 (284pp))

Grumpy old woman Fay Weldon debunks the politics of childcare in a novel that sees the author at her shibboleth-shaking best. Hattie and Martyn are a well-meaning Kentish Town couple adjusting to the arrival of their first baby. Ecological nappies drip into the bath; food and sex have gone out of the window. Tired with yet another meal of frozen peas and tinned tuna, Hattie decides to return to work and hire a nanny. The new Polish arrival - reassuringly plain - insinuates herself into their life with subversive results. On-tap therapy for every working mother. EH

Close Up and Personal, by Catherine Deneuve (ORION £8.99 (198pp))

Deneuve's decorous diaries consist of notes kept during the making of six films including Buñuel's Tristana (1969), Régis Wargnier's Vietnam-set Indochine (1992) and Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark (1999). Despite the promising title, no intimacies are revealed - aside from the actress's love of Nordic landscapes, unfussy hotel rooms and blue lupins. Her thumbnail sketches of fellow actors, although generous, are cursory. Jack Lemmon is "charming, surprising"; Björk "cheerful, shy", and Sandrine Bonnaire "magnificent, and stunning, too". The cool maquillage never cracks. EH

The Dark Part of Me, by Belinda Burns (ATLANTIC £9.99 (296pp))

Neighbours was never like this. In a roasting Brisbane suburb at Christmas, tearway Rosie is torn between same-sex delights with best mate Hollie and the riskier allure of wild-boy ex, Scott. Coke and violence loom larger than beer and barbies, but what saves this first novel from sun-baked sensationalism is the searingly raw voice Burns gives her heroine. Hot stuff from a writer who's cooly in control. BT

Further Under the Duvet, by Marian Keyes (PENGUIN £7.99 (395pp))

Like Barbara Cartland, Irish chick-lit queen Marian Keyes produces her best work lying down, dressed in her favourite "PJs". In this second volume of collected journalism, she treats us to her most recent bedside philosophising and seven short stories. A writer with the ability to give the most banal thoughts a Celtic twinkle, Keyes muses engagingly on turning 40, her near-perfect husband, and the art of dogging: "It beggars belief" EH

To order these books call: 0870 079 8897

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