Paperbacks

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Guilty Men

by `Cato',

Penguin 20th-Century Classics, pounds 6.99,

124pp

This blistering polemic against Neville Chamberlain and the spineless toffs who appeased Hitler was planned after France fell in 1940, on the roof of the Evening Standard offices. Its authors were three sparky radical journos who worked for Lord Beaverbrook: Michael Foot, Frank Owen and Peter Howard (who had captained the England rugby team). Foot himself provides a vivid preface to this reprint of his youthful squib. That heroic summer, as freedom's fate hung by a thread, sunlit London "had never looked lovelier". When their still-scorching blast against the corrupt and conniving Old Gang appeared, it sold 50,000 copies within a few days, "like a pornographic classic", despite a ban from WH Smith. A priceless memento of the Finest Hour.

Boyhood: a memoir

by JM Coetzee

Vintage, pounds 6.99, 176pp

Coetzee's compelling account of life in Cape Town, Worcester, and on idyllic holidays at the family farm in the Karoo is underscored by a child's fear of failure, of not belonging. He adored his mother but found her love suffocating, and hated his shiftless father. He is intrigued by their coloured servants but overwhelmed by his embarrassment at the mutual pretence of invisibility when they pass each other in the house. Coetzee's attempts to make sense of his world elegantly evoke the struggles of his childhood in Forties South Africa. His determination to be different, not to live by tired old formulas, not to accept another's "sober, disillusioned" vision of the world, has resulted in a memoir that is sombre but far from joyless.

In Desolate Heaven

by Robert Edric,

Anchor, pounds 6.99, 392pp

Setting the standard for future heroines of Anita Brookner novels, Elizabeth Mortlake and her widowed sister-in-law have taken up residence in a gloomy Swiss lakeside hotel. It's the autumn of 1919, and as both women attempt to recover from their shared loss, Elizabeth finds herself increasingly drawn to Jameson and Hunter, two ex-officer inmates of a nearby military hospital. One is awaiting a court-martial, the other has a more private trial to face. This eerily atmospheric novel manages to dodge all the cliches that sometimes bedevil First World War fiction. Robert Edric (the underrated author of Elysium, The Winter Garden and A New Ice Age) evokes the horror of the trenches from a quiet corner of the Alps.

All Grown Up

by Sophie Parkin,

Headline, pounds 6.99 245pp

Yet another Ab Fab-style re-creation of a groovy Sixties childhood. Sophie Parkin is the daughter of the flamboyant writer Mollie, the Welsh adventuress whose early life in London equalled her picaresque girl-about- town novels in raunch and recklessness. Now, Sophie fictionally recalls that lost era of strawberry Mivvies and even pinker Rolls-Royces. Her heroine, Coco Johnson, just happens to be the daughter of a hard-drinking actress mother. After 30 years, she has come to terms with her King's Road past. This she achieves with the help of a Thai holiday and the love of a good man. Worth reading for the younger Parkin's fantastic descriptions of food, especially the treacle tart and eggplant parmigiana.

The Palace

by Lisa St Aubin de Teran,

Pan, pounds 6.99, 263pp

A historical romance set in the 19th-century Italy of the Risorgimento, as the nation threw off its foreign conquerors and reputations were made - and lost. Lisa St Aubin de Teran's latest novel tells the rags-to-riches story of Gabriele dal Campo, a lowly stonemason from Urbino. He makes his fortune in the gambling halls of Venice, but fails to win the hand of his beloved. Perhaps this book is not quite as romantic as some of the author's other novels, particularly those that draw on her own rather spectacular earlier life as a teenage bride and chatelaine of a vast ranch in Venezuela. All the same, the intricate period intrigue of The Palace does provide a dramatic view from some of Umbria's prettier hilltops.

The Last English King

by Julian

Rathbone,

Abacus, pounds 6.99, 382pp

How do you cope with the banana-skin traps that lie in wait for any fiction set in the year 1066, as that boorish rabble of Normans under psychotic Bastard William gives one in the eye to the bucolic, democratic Saxons? Julian Rathbone's deft solution is to embrace the Blackadder/ 1066 And All That potential of his theme with some glorious anachronistic jokes. Having finessed our disbelief in this way, he can then go on to paint a brilliantly rich tapestry of 11th-century England and the Eastern Med, as King Harold's grieving bodyguard Walt travels to Byzantium to assuage his guilt. Lyrical, ingenious, witty and historically sound, this is a peach of a period piece.

Biting the Dust: the joys of housework

by Margaret Horsfield,

Fourth Estate, pounds 6.99, 304pp

Domestic history to delight flappers and scrubbers alike. Horsfield charts the demands of household cleaning and the status of those who do it. The filthy battle was most strenuous just over a century ago with the gradual acceptance of Pasteur's ideas about micro-organisms. But cleanliness being next to healthiness has not prevented many people being firmly in the closet about their love of cleaning, fearing that others will see their passion as manic obsession. The idiosyncracies of individual cleaning regimes remain, despite centuries of advice to the contrary from Florence Nightingale, Mrs Beeton, Simone de Beauvoir and, of course, our mothers.

Leave it to Me

by Bharati Mukherjee,

Vintage, pounds 6.99, 246pp

Abandoned as a baby by her Indian father and American mother, Debby Dimartino in turn abandons her adoptive parents and strikes out West in search of "Bio" Mom and Dad. Coming from nowhere, she belongs everywhere - particularly in California, in bed with rich men, as the reinvented "Devi Dee" closes in on her real parents. Alive with dark humour, mall-speak dialogue and the garish horrors of consumer culture, Leave It To Me also carries an undertow of mythical violence, Electra-style. Mukherjee's seventh novel still manages to delight in the contradictions of a place where even racism is treated as a learning experience.

Sister Josephine

by Joanna Traynor,

Bloomsbury, pounds 6.99, 216pp

Blood, guts, mangled bodies, the shocking sight of white bone pushing through bloody flesh - the human body in extremis plays a major role in Joanna Traynor's award-winning novel. Josephine, a foster-child who has been refused any information about her natural parents, is now a trainee nurse, struggling to find her roots amidst a moving flotsam and jestsam of car-crash victims, amputees and the elderly. "Everyone has a piss identity," she remarks matter-of-

factly at one point - that takes care of the physical side of things; but it's

the sense of emotional identity that concerns Traynor in this witty, disturbing book.

Lone Star Swing

by Duncan McLean,

Vintage, pounds 6.99, 320 pp

Yet another Brit author casting himself as the star of his own road movie. - though at least Duncan McLean admits to having only just passed his driving test. Using the prize money from a Somerset Maugham Award, the Orkney-based writer and publisher McLean, who first published Irvine Welsh and co with his influential small press, travels to the Lone Star State in the spring of 1995. He goes in search of the spirit of Bob Wills, the father of "Western Swing" and the inspiration for Lyle Lovett's quiff. Even if the world of cowboy music leaves you cold, McLean's ear for dialogue and droll sense of humour will enliven this unlikely transatlantic quest.

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