PAPERBACKS

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! Felicia's Journey by William Trevor, Penguin pounds 5.99. In Trevor's Whitbread prizewinner, an Irish country girl runs off pregnant and alone to England and into the fatal "friendly" orbit of solitary fatty Mr Hilditch, with his pebble glasses and creepy feelings about girls. Trevor is less interested in overt action than in inner whispers of sentimental anxiety or remorseful desperation. He is also a master of minute social detail, the brand-names and mantelpiece displays that deliver the characters, stereotypes grounded in solid, subtle realism. The book is no masterpiece -a cliche is a cliche however decorated - but it is gripping.

! X Ray by Ray Davies, Penguin pounds 6.99. The leader of the Kinks, composer of Waterloo Sunset and Sunny Afternoon, has always seemed the most sympatico of Sixties rock colossi. His autobiography is cast in the form of an earnest young reporter interviewing a paranoid rock legend in extreme old age, a device which takes some getting used to, but one that enables us to read the story from alternating angles of innocence and experience. The sardonic account of a working class boy's dealings with the British Establishment is fine; that of his hostile confrontation with the American Dream is a revelation.

! Looking for Trouble: SAS to Gulf Command by Sir Peter de la Billiere, HarperCollins pounds 6.99. This is life from squaddie via SAS to General, told at a galloping pace without literary pretention. The inner man hardly pokes his head out of the foxhole. When tragedy hits, when doubts assail or mistakes are made, de la Billiere simply boxes on. He is aware that no army operates in a vacuum - certainly not the SAS, despite its pretence of military purity - and at one point he claims he felt privileged "to hold a command [in Borneo] with such strong political overtones". Yet as the old soldier digs his garden and looks back over his part in post- war Britain's colonial and post-colonial wars, his political analysis would hardly fill up a plant label.

! Blackden by Duncan McLean, Minerva pounds 6.99. Celtic realists like Roddy Doyle and James Kelman have been reworking some of the ground we associate with "angry" English novelists of the late '50s - working class communities seen through one pair of critical/cynical eyes within a tightly defined time-frame. McLean's contribution is a fictional rural Scots town, home of 18-year-old Patrick Hunter, a likeable auctioneer's assistant who cranks around on his bike for a weekend cannoning off characters like a rolling snooker ball. The vagueness of his aims, while perfectly credible, makes for slack plotting, but the delightful atmosphere compensates.

! Something in Linoleum: A Thirties Education by Paul Vaughan, Sinclair- Stevenson pounds 9.99. The author of this memoir, one of the voices of Radio 4's Kaleidescope, is of Michael Frayn's and Robert Robinson's generation, grateful New Suburbanites of the 1930s. Like Frayn, he regards the suburbs as a bold and worthwhile social experiment, in which opportunity could flourish unfettered by tradition: "In Raynes Park NW10 the Man on the Clapham Omnibus came face to face with the Auden Generation". He

pays tribute to Auden's friend John Garrett, the energetic founding head of the grammar school where he benefited from unusually talented, if unorthodox staff. Meanwhile the Vaughans (Dad being the "something" of the title) led their secure inter-war life under cloudless skies.

! The Victorian Railway by Jack Simmons, Thames & Hudson pounds 16.95. That the railway age changed national life is a truism, but the details can be elusive now that railways are threatened with permanent diversion into a National Heritage branchline. Between 1830 and 1900 rail and steam were the acme of modernity. Simmons explores the railway's bruising use of iron and dynamite, both traumatic and inspiring, and the unprecedented popular mobility it conferred. Road protesters will read with interest of the trunk-line scheme through Stonehenge which failed narrowly, "only because the promoters did not make the case for it as a desirable railway".

! Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski, Granta pounds 7.99. In 1991 a legendary Polish foreign correspondent - chronicler of the empires of the Shah of Persia and Haile Selassie - took on the already-crumbling Soviet Empire. In this dazzling but untidy assemblage of history, political analysis, reportage, autobiography and travel-writing, Kapuscinski roams around the vast, dying body of the 3rd Rome. He laughs at overweening power, rages at the suffering of the people and shrugs over wrong-headed petty officials. The account of Stalin's destruction of Moscow's Temple of Christ the Saviour and how it became an open-air swimming pool is particularly fine.

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