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A Patchwork Planet

by Anne Tyler

Vintage pounds 6.99

A lovely, flowing novel about nothing much - Barnaby, a 30-year-old wastrel from Baltimore slowly pulls the threads of his life back together and starts to be a grown-up (Nick Hornby likes Anne Tyler, and you can see that they have certain themes in common). But underneath the seductive surface, it is a deeply serious moral tract; mostly, it's about the way that old age and death constantly nibble away at life, and about the things we can do to relieve the situation. You hardly notice the weight of the ideas, though, when they're presented so gently.

The Life of Thomas More

by Peter Ackroyd

Vintage pounds 8.99

Maybe it's because he's a Londoner ... there are times when Ackroyd's take on London seems slightly odd - when More was taken to the scaffold, "he was leaving London for eternity"; the book's concluding lines sum him up as "one of the few Londoners on whom sainthood has been conferred". It is a thorough, always readable biography that takes great care to describe the world More lived in, and strives to rescue the man from the saint (and from Robert Bolt's version). What Ackroyd doesn't trouble to do, and perhaps should, is convince the reader that More really matters.

Truman Capote

by George Plimpton

Picador pounds 7.99

An "oral biography" - that is, stuck together from bits of interview, a method that has tremendous advantages when the subject is a gossipy, tattling creature like Capote. What you can't gather from seeing footage of Capote, and what Plimpton conveys vividly, is the uncanny fascination he exercised on people, even those who loathed him: for 40 years, he knew absolutely everybody who was anybody and got invited to (or held) all the best parties. Vastly entertaining.

Selected Writings

by Gerard de Nerval

Penguin pounds 9.99

De Nerval was the chap who used to walk his pet lobster around Paris on a blue ribbon; aside from that, he's mostly known for the people he influenced: Eliot borrowed a fragment for the dying lines of The Waste Land ("Le prince d'Aquitaine a la tour abolie"); Proust claimed his story "Sylvie" as a begetter of A la recherche ...; Andre Breton reckoned he was a precursor of surrealism. He was a friend of Dumas and Theophile Gautier, a translator of Hoffmann, a contemporary of Poe and Gogol. Evidently, he is somebody we ought to know more about. The stories and poems collected in this excellent volume blur the borders of waking life and dreams, madness and reason, reality and fantasy, polished works of art that at times verge on hysterical outpourings. Historical importance and disquieting fun wrapped into one.

Solibo Magnificent

by Patrick Chamoiseau

trs Rose-Myriam Rejouis

and Val Vinokurov

Granta pounds 9.99

Solibo, the great storyteller of Fort-de-France, Martinique, dies in the middle of a tale, "throat snickt by the word", crying out "Patat' sa" ("That potato"). The crowd, thinking they recognised the usual invitation for them to respond answered "Patat' si!" ("This potato"), and took some time to notice he'd died; hence the concern of the police ... Chamoiseau's novel is playful and post-modern and a witty discourse on language and tradition, and all those other things you'd rather novels weren't. But it's written with a bounce and a vivacious splendour that whisk you along. Just be sure to skip the stuffy afterword, written by one of the translators under the misapprehension that jokes work better if you explain them thoroughly. RH