Paperbacks

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Elizabeth Gaskell by Jenny Uglow, Faber pounds 10.99. Elegant and riveting biography of the Victorian woman who really did seem to have it all - loving husband, armfuls of children, literary reputation, grace, charm and enough energy left over for dancing, theatre and adventurous foreign holidays. Uglow writes fascinatingly about the extended family of Unitarians, doctors, businessmen and card- playing ladies who helped shape Mrs Gaskell's expectations; even better about her brave, humane novels, which tackled subjects - social injustice, prostitution and unmarried motherhood - which at the time were difficult, if not almost taboo.

No Other Life by Brian Moore, Flamingo pounds 5.99. An Irish Catholic missionary working on a Caribbean island rescues a young black boy from abject poverty. He grows up to be not just a priest, but a fervid and violent revolutionary leader. Brian Moore's profound, touching and hugely readable 17th novel maps the fine line between sainthood and fanaticism with all the narrative zest and moral seriousness that have made him one of the most convincing fiction writers at work today.

The Collected Stories by Muriel Spark, Penguin pounds 6.99. Here is a treat for all Sparkomaniacs: 29 small but beautifully formed specimens of the mistress's art. Newcomers to Muriel Spark will find all the dry, spry wit for which she has become famous, but may be surprised by her range: this collection displays not just blade-sharp observations of bourgeois mores, but also touchingly oblique studies of death and despair; not only immaculate comedies of manners, but real tragedy, as well, and a genuinely haunting ghost story.

Beauties, Beasts and Enchantment: Classic French Fairy Tales trs Jack Zipes, Meridian pounds 9.99. Fairy tales are the dernier cri at the moment: first there were the late Angela Carter's wonderfully zippy collections of folkloric narratives; now we can hear Marina Warner giving the Reith Lectures a much-needed shot in the arm with her clever, wide-ranging and mischievous 'Managing Monsters'. This volume gives us the view from across the Channel - a fat, juicy assembly of 'salon tales', as related, with much inventive embroidery, by the ladies of the 17th and 18th century haut monde. All the ubiquitous themes are included - Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, princes, ogres, tests of love and courage - but the charm and sophistication of the telling remind us why fairy stories were long, and rightly, considered suitable entertainment for grown-ups.

The Chatto Book of Dissent ed Michael Rosen and David Widgery, pounds 8.99. Those who dislike anthologies object to them on the grounds that they don't contain a proper argument; those who like them enjoy them because they don't contain a proper argument. This may be one that actually manages to satisfy both groups of people: for browsers, it has all the lucky-dip pleasures of an excellent, unexpected and widely researched selection; for readers who want to trace an intellectual theme, the editors propose that 'Disagreement is universal . . . people proceed through life disagreeing', and go on to define their collection as one that 'focuses on a level of intellectual friction which is more fundamental because it questions the given rules of those who govern society'. A hugely enjoyable book, and a worthy reminder of the late David Widgery's sparkling talent for argument and creative dissent.

Comments