! Paddy & Mr Punch: Connections in Irish and English History by R F Foster, Penguin pounds 8.99. Irish politics is a discourse which, more often than not, dresses up in historical clothes picked from a prop-basket of styles and shades according to prejudice. So to master the Anglo-Irish debate does require the reading of history and, in such a case, Foster is absolutely required. Discussing the "ragged edges and loose ends of the fiction of Unionism" his range is wide, revisiting some of his favourite fields (Lord Randolph Churchill, Parnell) as well as many new ones (19th-century Punch magazine, Synge and Yeats, Elizabeth Bowen). Either way he compels you to take fresh stock.
! Absolution by Olaf Olafsson, Picador pounds 5.99. Petur Peturssen, an old Icelander, grown rich from the export of American goods to his homeland, sits in his luxury New York apartment and looks back sourly on his career, his marriage, his children and his one "little sin" committed in Europe during the war - a sin revealed by cunning degrees. Waiting to die, Peturssen is not beyond plotting to seduce his oriental nurse in one final, explosive affirmation. A readable, even riveting, portrait of a thoroughly unlikeable man who would get no absolution from me.
! Dispatches from the Front Line of Popular Culture by Tony Parsons, Virgin pounds 7.99. Parsons, consultant in street-cred when the phrase meant something, was a drafted in by New Musical Express because the editorial board's tolerances were set to accommodate Gerry Rafferty and not The Jam. More recently, the Telegraph hired him to decode Yoof for the Shires, though his range includes travel pieces and social criticism - his essays "The Tattooed Jungle" and "The Polenta Jungle", excoriation of the Working Class and a sanctifying of the bourgeoisie respectively, are here in all their rancorous splendour. Parsons is a great phrasemaker and on the way to becoming a pretty good polemicist.
! Juggling by Barbara Trapido, Penguin pounds 5.99. In a previous novel, Trapido played variations on themes from The Magic Flute; her models here are Shakespeare's comedies. The setting, however, is a brilliantly observed present day in which Pam and Christina meet best friends Jago and Peter. Their relationships coil and recoil in a plot which is never far from artifice, yet interestingly close to the truth. The game of familial power- play, the painful effects of repression, the fatal magnetism of one's opposite are all explored by Trapido's wily eye.
! Faithfull by Marianne Faithfull with David Dalton, Penguin pounds 5.99. She is photographed on the cover with slept-in hair, an inch of ash on the fag, faraway eyes. The light shines through the mussed hair like a halo: or is she flinching from the limelight? This is a fascinating story of a child-woman thrown up to the stars and her tragic fall, told with impressive stamina. Faithfull sees herself as a junkie martyr to the Sixties Zeitgeist, "acting out very deep collective hopes, fears, dreams". Manipulated she may have been, but this book is itself a clever literary manipulation, far in advance of the usual turgid ghost-job.
! Radon Daughters by Iain Sinclair, Vintage pounds 5.99. Sinclair's prose is like a fleet of refuse trucks in multiple pile-up, a dirty, hectic, eclectic chaos of images and associations that inspire alternating disgust and delight. In a contemporary East London as decayed and feverish as some post-Holocaust half-life, Sileen, a one-legged X-ray addict, embarks on a career as a copper's nark. But the copper is a bibliophile and sends Sileen to Oxford to feed his obsession with a 19th century horror writer - a journey which turns into a New Age odyssey. Exhausting but extraordinary.Reuse content