PAPERBACKS

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The Independent Culture
! Watergate: The Corruption and Fall of Richard Nixon by Fred Emery, Pimlico pounds 12.50. If US Presidents are like Shakespeare parodies - JFK as Caesar, maybe - Nixon was Richard Crookback to the life. He had his charming side, but was fundamentally twisted and suspicious. At one moment he'd see himself as a Colossus, impervious to legal constraints. At another he was swept by doubt and self-pity. Emery's account of the drama's final act is a tremendous read. It begins at Nixon's "world without fear" speech on Soviet TV, which coincided with the first incursion by agents of CREEP into the Watergate building; it ends with a jeering crowd below his White House window singing "Jail to the Chief". In between came a gripping sequence of events driven by ambition, stupidity, corruption, betrayal and, above all, hubris.

! Evelyn Waugh by Selina Hastings, Minerva pounds 7.99. The contrast between Evelyn Waugh's graceful prose and graceless manners generates such interesting material that it would take a complete bungler to write a dull life of him. This one is far from bungled. Especially fine are the miniatures of the friends of Waugh's youth, and Hastings is more than sound on the first 35 years. Thereafter, as for Waugh in life, a certain boredom sets in. One of the reasons Waugh never persevered beyond an initial volume of autobiography was that he'd already reworked his life experiences in fiction and travel books, and there's just a hint of weariness about the way Hastings leads us through the novels like the housekeeper-guide at a stately home, turning her key to reveal the life-model of each character.

! The Unloved by Deborah Levy, Vintage pounds 5.99. Part Maigret, part Greenaway? There are lots of echoes from elsewhere in this assured, rather filmic novel which tells of rape, death and role-playing among a motley crew of Euro-American tourists Christmassing at a French chateau. A long flashback transports us to a 1960s drop-out expat menage in Tangier, whose fatally relaxed view of sex and pharmacology looks like a commentary on the Bowles/Burroughs circle. Meanwhile the chateau's goings-on - farce colliding with tragedy, irony neutralised by desire - are a take on Jean Renoir's La Regle du Jeu as well as John Waddington's The Rules of Cluedo.

! Coming Back Brockens: A Year in a Mining Village by Mark Hudson, Vintage pounds 6.99. Spurred by the loss of "any sense of shared culture other than was granted by the media", London-born Hudson went to the Durham coalfield to unearth his roots and, in particular, traces of his grandfather Percy, a lifelong union official in the pit village of Horden. But this book is more than a work of familial piety: it amounts to an oral history of the pitworkers and their dependants - a way of life savaged by the 1984 strike and strangled out of its misery by Heseltine's subsequent pit closures. Despite the now mandatory recriminations among the judging panel, this was an honourable winner of the 1995 AT&T Prize.

! The Thought Gang by Tibor Fischer, Minerva pounds 6.99. This ramshackle comedy about Ed Coffin, a philosopher turned bank-robber, sometimes looks like the son of a Monty Python sketch. Alas, it is less brief. Ed's blagging picaresque round provincial France starts as agreeable knockabout but the stream of shallow jokes about philosophy ("the Biz"), an obsession with the letter "z" and a ludicrous taste in vocabulary soon wear thin.

! On Flirtation by Adam Phillips, Faber pounds 7.99. Phillips's essays on psychoanalysis and literature show a facility for verbal economy and phrasemaking that surfaces fresh and pithy on nearly every page. The confident asides are great (psychoanalysis as "essentially a theory of interruption"; Freud as "not an orthodox Freudian") but it is the underlayer of good sense, as in the insights about memory, time and psychological relativity, which hit home. "With a different analyst one would speak different life-stories," he says; because "psychoanalytic practice is hearsay" its effectiveness can't be proved. As is evident, the author is himself no orthodox analyst.

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