PAPERBACKS

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The Independent Culture
! Rain Men by Marcus Berkmann, Abacus pounds 6.99. Berkmann's account of cricket addiction has been compared with Hornby's Fever Pitch, but it has quite a different flavour. As Berkmann points out, cricket is a summer game ("a girly time of year") and suffers from "a shortage of mud and homoerotic contact". More significantly, most young males pay lip service at least to Match of the Day, while cricket is a minority obsession. Indeed this wonderfully funny book reads like an inside account of a secret cult, its members tinged with guilt, shame and a curious, defiant pride. As he admits from the first, the question is Why? However did he get in thrall to "such an intrinsically silly game"? Is it the anorak-tug of statistics, or a fetish for white clothing and leather balls that leaves a man never free, even in his most intense moments of concentration, of that nagging thought: what's the score in the Test Match?

! An Interference of Light by Russell Celyn Jones, Penguin pounds 6.99. Sharon in the 1930s, the setting of this story, is a Welsh quarry town where the arcane skills of slate mining are passed down like heirlooms from father to son. The quarry boss hires US Pinkerton detective Aaron Lewis to uncover thesecrets of the craft, and Lewis dutifully worms his way into the households and the confidence of the workers, acknowledging his growing love for them - a love which doesn't fail to find physical expression. But emotion never prevents him systematically betraying his friends to his employer. Lewis's suave, worldly narration of these events, culminating in a do-or-die strike, is interleaved with his deadpan account of a return to Sharon, now a ghost-town, 20 years on. A most interesting study in moral equivocation.

! Behind Closed Doors by Alina Reyes, Phoenix pounds 5.99. Adventure game-books were a pre-teen fad of the mid-80s: fast-moving extra-terrestrial romps filled with bug-eyed scientists and born-again dinosaurs. The author of The Butcher here resuscitates the genre as - of all things - soft pornography. It's a reversible book, male protagonist at one end and female at the other, entering a fairground "hall of Eros" with a different delight in each room. You, the reader, must choose every couple of pages which direction to take. It's a neat idea, avoiding some of the repetitive dullness of the linear erotic novel, but in the end, despite Reyes's literary credentials, it's not such an advance on Luggage of Lust and The Sins of Sadie.

! The Dream-Hunters of Corsica by Dorothy Carrrington, Phoenix pounds 6.99. I always associated vellaymen - who can dream people to death by making shamanistic connections between individuals and beasts - with the South Seas. Now, in the account of a redoubtable ethnologist of Corsica, it appears there are such traditional figures in Napoleon's birthplace, and she insists it's a continuing tradition. How many tourists, flirting with melanoma on the beaches round Ajaccio, know that high in the remote communes scattered through the mountains behind them there are the mazzeri - death's messengers, witchdoctors - whose lore of "dream-hunting" is both a theory and a practice dating back to the Stone Age? This book is a spooky marriage between the scholarship of Claude Levi-Strauss and the hair-raising of Bram Stoker.

! The Age of Miracles by Ellen Gilchrist, Bloomsbury pounds 6.99. Many of these 16 stories follow the life of Gilchrist's alter ego Rhoda Manning, a writer now in her fifties but in several stories looking back at her distantly related younger self. Obviously Rhoda has more than enough money, but she doesn't let that spoil her sense of a life unfulfilled, a sense which she carries with her on all her sorties from home in Fayetteville, Arkansas. And the desire for an ever-illusory, ever-receding fulfilment is what drives all these tales of sex and friendship, culture and health insurance, elective surgery and Americans in Paris. Gilchrist writes a lovely prose: usually fast-flowing but with more than enough variation in tempo and ironic humour to keep the stories fresh and surprising.

! The Revolt of the Elites by Christopher Lasch, Norton pounds 9.95. The late author of this political testament was an academic and mid-Western radical of precisely the type to be the despised butt of populist politicians during the 1980s. In 1979 he published his seminal The Culture of Narcissism, a hard-hitting critique of America as a nation of moral weaklings, unable to resist the blandishments of advertisers and talk show tub-thumpers. The present book is a crystallisation of why Lasch hates the domination of political life, and the shredding of community, by powerful and out- of-touch elites. He looks back to a time when American radicalism, and the belief in democracy, meant more than "the wistful hope that deep divisions in society can be bridged by goodwill and sanitised speech". Instead of accountable civic institutions with local roots, people put their trust in quangos, charities and group therapy, while the Market is encouraged to follow its own heedless destiny. We in Britain have something to learn from this thesis.

! The Model Occupation by Madeleine Bunting, HarperCollins pounds 7.99. When the Germans occupied them in 1940, the Channel Islands were still far from being the haven for offshore trust funds and tax exiles that they are today. The inhabitants were Norman-French, but they'd been under the British Crown since 1066, and (at least on a good day) were proud of it. Heavily dependent on Britain to trade their cash crops of tomatoes and cut flowers for most other necessities, they were horrified and ill-prepared when the Cabinet suddenly abandoned them to the mercies of the Nazi army. The subsequent story, which traces the full spectrum of popular responses, from craven collaboration to resistance unto death, is brilliantly and compassionately told in this definitive book, which draws on the recent release of papers which had originally been sealed for 100 years.

An Endless View: The Artist and Exmoor by John Yeates (Exmoor pounds 19.95/pounds 13.95, ISBN 0 86183 284 1) is a charming tour of Exmoor's pony- dotted uplands and coastal villages, through the eyes of the many artists inspired there (Gainsborough, Turner, Pisarro, as well as lesser-known amateurs). The topography that launched a thousand postcards is handsomely reproduced, in partnership with the National Park Authority

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