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Tales of the New Babylon: Paris 1869-1875 by Rupert Christiansen, Minerva pounds 7.99. This look at life (high and low) in Paris during one of its periodic upheavals begins with the decadence of the Second Empire and ends with the Commune and its aftermath. It is detailed, informative and far from sentimental, though the occasionally superior moral tone can be off-putting. The book's centerpiece is the five-month Siege of Paris, in which many citizens were blown away by long-range Prussian artillery, dug into the surrounding hills. There were bloody and wasteful sorties by the defenders while, to alleviate hunger, the luckier (that is, richer) citizens enjoyed choice cuts of meat from the zoo; others learned the more guilty pleasure of eating the household pet. And queues were ubiquitous. I kept thinking of the similar plight of a contemporary European capital some distance to the East.

Better than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie by Hunter S Thompson, Black Swan pounds 6.99. Clever the way he gets sex, drugs and politics all into one title. But is it an elaborate double meaning? We all remember Hunter S and drugs - does this mean he took them for the highest political motives? Sorry, wrong tack bubba. The Great Gonzo is saying he gets to fly on politics and this is his account of the Bush vs Clinton trip of 1992. But the strain of being politically funky shows like it never used to. He starts off at a frantic pace, throwing out faxes, cartoons, cuttings, doctored photos and lists, but the bottom line is he mostly stays home in Woody Creek, Colorado, by his TV and fax. The suspicion dawns that this particular acid has been fatally cut with something slightly inert. Could be those mod cons.

The Diaries of Sylvia Townsend Warner ed Claire Harman, Virago pounds 12.99. I like Updike's remark, quoted in the introduction to this selection from 50 years of her diary (1927-78), that Townsend Warner had "the spiritual digestion of a goat". Not a polymath by any means, but a remarkably self- aware writer with a shrewd eye, she was a lesbian, a sometime communist, a novelist and poet, a gardener, a writer of fantasies. Someone who is interested in everything cannot always be interesting. The fact that Townsend Warner very nearly always is makes her a fine diarist, even when dealing with the most mundane processes and perceptions.

The Hounding of John Thomas by Craig Brown, Arrow pounds 5.99. The loins of Connie Chatterley and Mellors sprigged to produce this rollicking tale's eponymous hero. In part it's a parody of those chunky 18th-century tales told entirely through letters, but Brown widens the form to include spoof Sixties poetry, news cuttings, memos, and extracts from political memoirs and diaries. The plot traces a rake's rise (safe Tory seat and a lecherous spell in the Cabinet) and fall (into a police vagrancy charge). One of its pleasures is the discovery that Sir Clifford Chatterley survived in his wheelchair into the 1960s (all the while writing a choleric diary) and that Wragby Hall became a Conference Facility which boasted the Queenie Leavis Cocktail Bar.

Conflict of Loyalty by Geoffrey Howe, Papermac pounds 8.99. Howe's dog is called Summit and his great-great-grandfather was a thatcher and after that I'm floundering for colourful titbits to pass on. This is like reading a 700-page budget speech: so turgid that it makes recent memoirs by Lawson, Thatcher et al seem as frolicsome as Wodehouse. Also, Howe's decision to stick to the mainstream of political developments neatly enables him to skirt some ticklish issues. Reading him on the very day that the Ordtech 4 had their sentences quashed, I wanted the low-down on the arms to Iraq guidelines, which Howe as Foreign Secretary wrote and later secretly changed. They go unmentioned. The name Scott isn't there either. Not in the mainstream of achievement, you see. How convenient.

Queen of the Witches by Jessica Berens, Arrow pounds 5.99. Berens's first novel presents a bunch of weird West London sisters who are absurdly but pleasantly believable, though this doesn't surprise me much since I once came across a real witch living in Notting Hill. Perhaps the notion of a Witches' Liberation League is slightly sitcom but the plot, turning on elections for the post referred to in the title, is one with realistic ramifications which recall the politics of a trade union, say, or the Police Federation.

A River Town by Thomas Keneally, Sceptre pounds 5.99. Irish roots are as common in Australia as in America, and Keneally here pays tribute to his own emigrant ancestors from Newmarket, Co Cork, settling at the century's turn around the mouth of the Macleay River, up the coast from Sydney. His hero Tim Shea is so much like a gentile Leopold Bloom that it's impossible to believe this is accidental. Joyce's hero, too, is a "man of business" (Shea is a general store keeper) and both men share that open, liberal, self-taught, enquiring mind, that conscience and love of their fellow human beings. And Shea, too, is persecuted: a small act of gallantry at the beginning of the story is at first inflated to heroism, before being used in the end against him. Keneally's storytelling is slyly stop-go. There are moments when the pace slackens almost to somnambulism, only to wake you up with a nagging compulsion to turn the page.

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