These they have loved
Finest crime, alternative Bookers, dazzling poets, science and history - writers and critics choose their favourites
Sunday 29 November 1998
In Heshel's Kingdom (Hamish Hamilton pounds 15.99), Dan Jacobson describes a visit to Lithuania in search of the grave of Heshel, his grandfather; in search, too, of some sense of the country which his mother left for South Africa before the Nazi massacres. Sombre, beautiful, funny and very angry. Barbara Trapido's The Travelling Hornplayer (Hamish Hamilton pounds 15.99) is her most marvellous yet, fearlessly acrobatic, tragic and comic. It offers the huge pleasures and pains of old friends, families and foes from her earlier books: how some have grown, and who would have guessed what happened to so-and-so. Ethel & Ernest (Cape pounds 14.99) celebrates the lives of Raymond Briggs's parents, the joys of the particular and domestic and the comparative unimportance of World Achievements. The cartoons glow with affection, and the bleak hospital deaths come as an outrage.
Bernard Schlink's The Reader (Phoenix pounds 6.99) was unusual and compelling, and I also enjoyed Philip Roth's I Married a Communist (Cape pounds 16.99). Stevie Davies, in Unbridled Spirits: Women of the English Revolution 1640-1660 (Women's Press pounds 17.99) combines a scholarly approach to the printed sources with lively prose and obvious enthusiasm for the extraordinary lives she chronicles - completely absorbing.
Hilary Spurling's The Unknown Matisse (Hamish Hamilton pounds 25) brilliantly illuminates the secret life of the artist, while Lyndall Gordon in A Private Life of Henry James (Chatto pounds 20) once again reinvigorates a tired old genre. The failure of Beryl Bainbridge's Master Georgie (Duckworth pounds 14.99) to win this year's Booker Prize exposed the preposterousness of the entire over-hyped enterprise. Oskar Batschmann and Pascal Griener's Hans Holbein (Reaktion Books pounds 40) is a major contribution to the understanding of 16th-century humanist art.
Pain and injustice conveyed in pure poetry can be found in Paradise by Toni Morrison (Chatto pounds 16.99). The sheer intensity of suffering juxtaposed with levity and shockingly truthful observation makes Before I Say Goodbye, by Ruth Picardie (Penguin pounds 5.99), an astonishing achievement. Enduring Love, by Ian McEwan (Vintage pounds 6.99), outshines, and should have outwon, this year's Amsterdam. A true, flawed masterpiece, with one of the most extraordinary opening chapters in English literature.
Barbara Trapido's The Travelling Hornplayer (Hamish Hamilton pounds 15.99), although a deeply serious novel, was presumably too entertaining for the Booker judges. I loved its wisdom and shapeliness. Andrew Miller's Casanova (Sceptre pounds 15) was also overlooked, perhaps for similar reasons: it combines intelligence with high comedy, a cardinal sin in British literary circles. Meanwhile there seems to be no prize flexible enough to accommodate Raymond Briggs's Ethel and Ernest (Cape pounds 14.99).
Beryl Bainbridge scales new heights with Master Georgie (Duckworth pounds 14.99), a brilliantly innovative tale set against the Crimean War. How it failed to win the Booker I will never know. Scipio by Ross Leckie (Canongate pounds 15.99) is a more conventional historical novel, but no less gripping. Mark Mazower's Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century (Allen Lane pounds 20) provides chilling evidence that the rise of both communism and fascism was very much in line with the continent's political development.
Jo Shapcott has perfected her own unique brand of British Surrealism. My Life Asleep (OUP pounds 6.99) is her best to date, her most elegantly musical and, for all its macabre imagery, her most tender. Better snap up your copy soon as OUP, the world's most inept publishing house, has decided to drop its poetry list. Paul Farley's The Boy From The Chemist Is Here To See You (Picador pounds 6.99) is an intelligent and formally assured first collection, the wit scintillating out in tangents from a Catherine wheel of rhyme. August Kleinzhaler's Green Sees Things In Waves (Faber pounds 7.99) is a feast of luxurious diction and conspicuous ingenuity. He may not be a heavyweight, but with every line he reminds you of the sheer joy of the craft.
I was warned by people more expert than I that Anthony Beevor's Stalingrad (Viking pounds 25) was great on the view from the tank turret, but not so good on high strategy. In fact he is marvellous on both - as is Richard Overy on the relationship of the military and industrial struggle of the German- Soviet war as a whole in Russia's War (Penguin pounds 20). Michael Howard claimed in the Spectator that Gitta Sereny's book on Mary Bell's crime and punishment, Cries Unheard (Macmillan pounds 20), should never have been written. He is wrong: though he would have been right to have said that about The Starr Report (Orion pounds 4.99). No one's sex life could stand up to being described by Kenneth Starr and his grisly team, and no one's sex life should be expected to.
Tom Wolfe's Atlanta dismemberment, A Man in Full (Cape pounds 20), was worth the 11-year wait since Bonfire of the Vanities. But the greatest imaginative work in years is The Starr Report the perfect stocking-filler if you dare not offer cigars.
Schoolboy years are described by Withnail & I's writer in hideous, hilarious detail in The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman by Bruce Robinson (Bloomsbury pounds 6.99), from exploding, seashore crabs to enraging, hellfire churchmen, shot through with moving truths. Things Can Only Get Better by John O'Farrell (Doubleday pounds 9.99) covers O'Farrell's years of hard, Labour campaigning in a hopeless constituency. It's funnier and sharper than Fever Pitch. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind (Bloomsbury pounds 16.99) tells how the Hollywood auteurs of the 1960s crashed and burned in the 1970s. Cleopatra's Wedding Gift by Robert Tewdr Moss (Duckworth pounds 8.95) is a journey through Syria that presents a melancholy but often surprising view of a modern police state. There's a touch of Paul Bowles here, made more poignant by the fact that its young author died on the day he finished the book.
I would choose Birthday Letters (Faber pounds 14.99). It isn't typical of Hughes's poetry, but it shows the raw power which was part of all his best writing. In its own way it is just as good as last year's Tales from Ovid, in which the poet metamorphosed old stories into something completely his own. The most
recent new book I have read and liked is Ethel & Ernest, Raymond Briggs's graphic-novel biography of his parents. I enjoy its wordless opening, a piece of silent cinema on paper.
Amanda Lear's Rachel Carson, Witness for Nature (Penguin pounds 25) for a compelling, if over reverential, account of a nature nerd who changed the world and pioneered environmental campaigning. Tomorrow's World, by Duncan McLaren, Simon Bullock and Musrat Yousuf (Earthscan pounds 12.95), is not an easy read but it's a pioneering study of how Britain can tread more lightly on the Earth while still increasing its standard of living. And, for light relief, Gordon Grice's The Red Hourglass: Lives of the Predators (Penguin pounds 14.99) is an eloquent and obsessive description of the nastier side of wildlife.
Not, I fear, a particularly good year for fiction. Phillip Roth's I Married a Communist (Cape pounds 16.99) stands out for its willingness to explore larger historical and political themes at a time when most novelists continue to narrow the scope of their vision. It might be cheating to choose a book first published in 1872, but the new edition of Charles Darwin's The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals (HarperCollins pounds 16.99) is a real joy and puts to shame most contemporary popular science. Paul Ekman's introduction and his notes are themselves important contributions. Finally, and perhaps inevitably, Ted Hughes's Birthday Letters. The sheer rawness, passion and hurt of the poems is utterly compelling.
This has been a good year for pioneer aviators, with an excellent life of Lindbergh among the contenders, but the palm must go to Smithy: The Life of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, by Ian Mackersey (Little, Brown pounds 20), a brilliant amalgam of high adventure and psychological probing, telling the story of the first man to fly the Pacific. Yet perhaps the grand slam in biography was achieved by Michael Asher in his Lawrence, the Uncrowned King of Arabia (Viking pounds 20), as this combines a bracing narrative, deep psychology and the ultimate in the "footsteps" approach. An Arabist who has clocked up 15,000 miles on the back of a camel, Asher retraced all of Lawrence's famous desert journeys. In a spate of volumes on Hitler, Explaining Hitler, The Search for the Origins of his Evil, by Ron Rosenbaum (Macmillan pounds 25), stood out, both for lucidity and the sheer breadth of its coverage.
In his mesmerising verse sequence, Birthday Letters, Ted Hughes finally broke his silence on the subject of his troubled marriage to Sylvia Plath, making literary and biographical history. Ross McKibbin's compassionate and detailed addition to the social history of Britain, Classes and Cultures 1918-1951 (OUP pounds 25), gave us humane scholarship at its very best. And Lyndall Gordon's A Private Life of Henry James dug deep into the archaeology of the Master's emotions, tracing his unexpectedly intimate relationships with two remarkable women.
If the worst news of the year was the death of Ted Hughes, the best was his Birthday Letters: prosy at times, mythic, and magnificently appeasing. Once in a House on Fire (Picador pounds 14.99), Andrea Ashworth's account of growing up abused in Manchester, is the brightest first book I've read for some time: sharp, energetic and quite without self-pity. In a strong year for American fiction, sandwiched between the epic achievements of Don DeLillo's Underworld and Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full, special mention for Philip Roth's I Married a Communist, social history combined with transcendent personal revenge. As a supplement to Christmas showing of The Snowman, I recommend Raymond Briggs's Ethel & Ernest.
William Trevor's beautifully written study of baby stealing in Death In Summer (Viking pounds 15.99). Richard Holmes's second volume of Coleridge: Darker Reflections (Harper Collins pounds 19.99), wonderful dreams and constipation, the pros and cons of drug-taking. Peter Vansittart's In Memory of England (J Murray pounds 20) and Jeremy Paxman's The English (Michael Joseph pounds 20) are two excellent studies of the fantasies and realities of this small country.
Joseph O'Connor's extraordinary, terrifying The Salesman (Secker pounds 9.99) - a thriller full of soul and pity - scared me witless. Derek Beaven's Acts of Mutiny (4th Estate pounds 14.99) - so large and so subtle - is a really stunning act of imagination. John Bayley's Iris (Duckworth pounds 16.95) - a book about real, undaunted marital love - is inspiring, devastating and (on Bayley's part) touchingly ego-free. And Henry Sutton's The Househunter (Sceptre pounds 12.99) is a gloriously original and unashamedly honest third novel from a woefully underrated author.
jill paton walsh
The best things I've read this year are Richard Holmes's Coleridge: Darker Reflections - heartbreaking, exasperating and as tense as a thriller; Ted Hughes's Birthday Letters - a breath-stopping struggle with painful memory, in which Plath's agonising and exhilarating personality appear as clearly as in her own work - and the long-disputed balance between him and her is decisively righted. And lastly I have also greatly enjoyed Penelope Lively's Spiderweb (Viking pounds 15.99). She is one of those few compulsory authors whose book I find I must read.
Heshel's Kingdom by Dan Jacobson - when the Nazis invaded Lithuania, almost the entire Jewish population was massacred. Combining the family memoir with travel writing, Dan Jacobson peers into this historical void and imagines what the past is like: "echoless and bottomless ... a darkness that gives back nothing". I Shall Bear Witness: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1933-1941 (Weidenfeld pounds 20). An account of the day-to-dayness of the Nazi tyranny, this is a classic work by a distinguished scholar, a German Jew who was trapped in Germany in the war and who was both anti- Nazi and anti-Zionist. Hay by Paul Muldoon (Faber pounds 7.99). Muldoon's work always reminds me of a line from Shakespeare: "a thing enskied and sainted". In an image of swallows' nests baked into "exquisite glazed pots" by the flames of a burning mansion, he offers an ironic glance at the theme of art and the troubles.
The Travelling Hornplayer by Barbara Trapido is an intelligent, moving, exquisitely structured "sequel" (of sorts) to Brother of the More Famous Jack. Reading Barbara Trapido is sheer pleasure. Afterwards, I went out and bought everything else she has written - and am only disappointed I didn't do it earlier. Lorrie Moore's new collection of stories, Birds of America (Faber pounds 9.99), is humane, very funny and unflinching in its exploration of the darkness that surrounds us. The Oxford Dictionary of New Zealand English, ed Harry Orsman (OUP pounds 90) is expensive and slightly too big for your Christmas stocking, but it's a fascinating historical document as well as a reference tool. These pages are rich with New Zealand experience, from whaling to land wars to carless days. Just quietly, it's a wee bottler.
New Labour elevates pragmatism to a principle. But how rational can a nation's politics ever be? Three outstanding history books point to murky currents in the collective soul, that swirl beneath the surface of recent political behaviour. Mark Mazower's thought-provoking Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century is the latest attempt to put into perspective an arbitrarily defined numerical block of time, linking a wide range of societal strands. Ross McKibbin's mordantly witty Classes and Cultures: England 1918-1951 (OUP pounds 25) side-steps high politics in order to unpick the threads of the British class system, richly mixing statistics and evidence drawn from mass literature. Raphael Samuel's posthumously published Island Stories: Unravelling Britain (Verso pounds 20) teases brilliantly at the progressive imperatives of deep-seated popular tradition.
As someone who responds to Darwinism with a religious fervour I shall be reading Stephen Jay Gould's Leonardo's Mountain of Clams (Cape pounds 17.99) just as soon as I have a moment to spare, probably over Christmas. As any Gould fan knows, it's not necessary to have read one of his collections of essays to recommend it. Among novels, the one that, months later, has left in my mind a powerful, if not altogether pleasant aftertaste is Carlo Gebler's How To Murder A Man (Little, Brown pounds 16.99), a scarifying account of relations between landowners and tenants in 1854 Ireland. The book's great virtues are the immediacy it brings to history and the way it roots the Troubles in land ownership as well as, or even rather than, religion. But the best read in paperback, for me, was Ian Rankin's Black and Blue (Orion pounds 5.99). It's a long, complex novel whose background takes in drug wars, police corruption and the Scottish oil industry, and presents urban, industrial society at many, interrelated levels in a way that simply is not attempted by any contemporary, English, "literary" writer. Like Balzac and Dickens, Rankin here manages to ground the realist novel where it belongs, in crime; and raise the crime novel to the heights it can reach as literature.
Fred D'Aguiar puts his talent as a poet at the service of gripping storytelling in Feeding the Ghosts (Chatto pounds 14.99), a novel about the slave trade in which the ocean and the hold of a ship function like the unconscious, full of extraordinary riches. The Metaphysical Touch (Gollancz pounds 16.99) by Sylvia Brownrigg is a first novel of power and delicacy, funny as well as involving, set in California and dealing with love stories woven on the internet. For anyone who missed it first time round, Lost in Translation, (Vintage pounds 6.99) by Eva Hoffman, has just been reissued in paperback. A fascinating and beautiful memoir about the author's move from Poland to the States, it is a meditation on childhood, nationality, language and identity. Keats, (Faber pounds 14.99) by Andrew Motion, is now affordable because it's just out in paperback, while Antonia White: A Life, (Cape pounds 25) by Jane Dunn, would be a treasure at any price.
Ted Hughes's Birthday Letters was a real page-turner, even though we already knew the plot, or thought we did. It's a wonderful coda to his amazing trajectory through post-war English verse. Derek Mahon's The Yellow Book (Gallery pounds 6.95) shows one of our master poets back near the top of his form. Anne Carson's Glass and God (Cape pounds 8) is worth buying for its first long poem, about loneliness, failed love and Emily Bronte. Other books I enjoyed were Adam Zagajewski's Mysticism for Beginners (Faber pounds 7.99), George Szirtes's Portrait of My Father in an English Landscape (OUP pounds 7.99), Patricia Beer's Autumn (Carcanet pounds 6.95), Francis Ponge's Selected Poems (Faber pounds 9.99) and Martin Espada's Imagine the Angels of Bread (Norton pounds 8). Most rewarding biographies were Kenneth R Johnson's The Hidden Wordsworth (Norton pounds 30), crammed with interesting, maddening and original readings of the life and works, and Richard Holmes's Coleridge: Darker Reflections, superb on the life, less sure-footed about the poetry.
The Firebox: Poetry from Britain and Ireland After 1945 (Picador pounds 15.99/pounds 9.99), ed Sean O'Brien, is a book that should be made available via the National Health Service, it's so packed full of poems that do the business. Read it last thing at night if you want to wake up exhilarated, moved and refreshed. It's informative, too, particularly if read in combination with The Deregulated Muse, O'Brien's recent book of essays on contemporary poetry. With Paul Muldoon's Hay you'll need to get your sunglasses out or prepare to be dazzled. The poems sing. Every word steps out of the page with its whole history along - all the family, even the most distant friends and relatives invited for the party. Hay is fun, tender, virtuosic, explosively true. I found Julia Darling's Crocodile Soup (Anchor pounds 9.99) an enormously satisfying meal. Hilarity and pain are mixed delicately in this story of a woman struggling towards love. Julia Darling's novel darts wonderfully from reality to a world not surreal, exactly, but super-real: her territory is the deepest part of the imagination.
The Aryan Christ: The Secret Life of Karl Gustav Jung, by Richard Noll (Macmillan pounds 20), is perfect reading material if you are irritated by people at parties who announce they're in therapy, saying, "Oh, but it's not Freudian, of course. It's Jungian," as if this were something to brag about. It portrays Jung as, amongst other things, a nutty, proto-Nazi Mithraist who believed himself to be the Aryan Christ, acting out a particularly nasty Oedipus Complex on its Jewish discoverer, his former guru, Dr Freud. Sex: The Measure of All Things: A Life of Alfred Kinsey, by Jonathan Gathorne- Hardy (Chatto pounds 20), liberates Kinsey from the nonce wing of sexology where he's been banged up by recent biographies and TV exposes on his polymorphous perversity. Gathorne-Hardy also rescues Kinsey's methodology from charges of "bias" and argues convincingly that Kinsey's bisexuality and "pro-active" approach to field work was actually a boon in the study of the spectrum of human sexuality rather than a disadvantage. The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels (Verso pounds 8) was reissued and, right on cue, global capitalism promptly collapsed under its own contradictions. All the same, the relevance of this 150-year-old pamphlet for today is not so much its dour substance but Marx's extraordinarily contemporary, ironic, cool, biting writing style - sort of 19th-century Julie Burchill with the important addition of Hegel's brain.
Belated homage is paid to David Gascoyne, that fine and unfashionably serious poet (surrealist and psychogeographer), by the publication of his Selected Prose 1934-1996 (Enitharmon pounds 30). A crisply designed book packed with small marvels. I relished the prose of another moonlighting poet, Ben Watson, whose Art, Class & Cleavage: Quantulumcunque Concerning Materialist Esthetix (Quartet pounds 14) argues, at full throttle, the impossible: that we should care for those prickly bedfellows, Marxism and poetry. I was excited by the care for the weight and rhythm of language demonstrated by James Sallis in The Eye of the Cricket (No Exit pounds 6.99). A dark fable masquerading as a New Orleans crime novel. One of a cumulatively impressive series featuring the black writer/investigator, Lew Griffin.
The problem of evil, and the individual's responsibility for it, is the question tackled by Ron Rosenbaum's fascinating book, Explaining Hitler. It didn't change my mind about the interaction of people and historical forces, but it illustrated the huge range of possible answers to the conundrum. The Royal Academy's beautiful edition of Life? or Theatre? (pounds 19.95), the extraordinary series of gouaches painted by Charlotte Salomon shortly before she perished in Auschwitz in 1943, is enthralling and terrifying - the personal testament of one of Hitler's victims. I've also greatly appreciated the latest of Lyndall Gordon's unconventional biographies, A Private Life of Henry James. Among the many novels I've enjoyed this year, three stand out: Medea, by Christa Wolf (Virago pounds 16.99), The Catastrophist, by Ronan Bennett (Headline Review pounds 14.99), and Leslie Forbes's accomplished debut as a crime writer, Bombay Ice, (Phoenix House pounds 16.99). Each of them deals, in vivid and very different ways, with the experience of being an outsider.
There is no contest for my book of the year. Philip Roth's I Married a Communist is as good as anything he has ever written. The old man is still as vibrant and bilious as ever. Speaking of bile, the most enjoyable non-fiction book I read this year was Paul Theroux's Sir Vidia's Shadow (Hamish Hamilton pounds 17.99). A strange portrait of the author's 30-year friendship with V S Naipaul, and a fascinating navigation of Theroux's lifetime of literary ambition, this book culminates in a bitter and acrimonious climax as the two men fall out. The best first novel I read this year was The Tribes of Palos Verdes, (Viking pounds 9.99) by Joy Nicholson, a dark and penetrating study of the power-games played out on children by divorcing parents, narrated from the perspective of a teenage daughter who is excruciatingly unable to come to terms with the agonies of parental rejection.
The best hard-boiled crime books of 1998 are: Down on Ponce by Fred Willard (No Exit pounds 6.99). Ponce de Leon Avenue is where Atlanta, Georgia's losers gather to hide out from the law. After a $30,000 scam, Sam Fuller heads there and gathers a disparate team together to take on a drugs cartel loaded with cash and wreak some personal vengeance for himself. A stunning debut novel. Rumble Tumble by Joe R Lansdale (Gollancz pounds 9.99). Hap and Leonard, Lansdale's salt-and-pepper, straight/gay, Vietnam vet/draft dodger duo return for their fourth adventure where they take on a biker gang down Mexico way and blow them up in a battle reminiscent of The Wild Bunch. Lansdale just gets better and better. The Dogs of Winter by Kem Nunn (No Exit pounds 6.99). Surf-noir is a new genre for trend spotters. In search of the perfect wave, a group of surfers meet in northern California and trek across an Indian reservation. On the way an Indian boy dies and the natives look for revenge. Quite simply one of the most masterful studies of what makes men and women tick ever written. Brutal and unforgettable.
I enjoyed James Fenton's essays on art, collected in Leonardo's Nephew (Viking pounds 20), which read like detective stories and run from Pisanello to Picasso, via the said nephew, whose figure of Bacchus appears in a Bronzino portrait. Or does it? I particularly admired Philip Roth's I Married a Communist, which unravels a doomed relationship, while taking on the dark side of post-war America. In John Irving's A Widow for One Year (Bloomsbury pounds 16.99) I fell in love with a Dutch policeman, and Philip Hensher's Pleasured (Chatto pounds 14.99) had me dancing on the Autobahn.
Don DeLillo's Underground (Picador pounds 18) and Cormac McCarthy's Cities of the Plain (Picador pounds 16.99) must be mentioned in honourable dispatches. A technique for Underground while being a busy author is to tear out each, often very beautiful, page as you read it, then every couple of days, post the pages back to your home address. Gradually the book dominates your cabin luggage less and less. Cities of the Plain! Just that sequence about road-kill rabbits is worth so much! But my absolute favourite three books this year must be Charity, by Mark Richard (Nan Talese/Doubleday $19.95 - yet to be published in Britain). Worth it just for the short story "The Birds for Christmas": two hospitalised orphan children beg the nurses to watch Hitchcock's movie. It's so concise, well observed and moving. Other stories are just astonishing ... the gruesome detective pastiche, "Where Blue is Blue", and the crazed, wicked, "Fun at the Beach". One of America's greatest writers, so energetic, sensitive and life-affirming. Handwriting by Michael Ondaatje (Bloomsbury pounds 9.99). The way his novels are truly poetic, Ondaatje's thrilling poems often read like exquisite, unwritten Ondaatje novels. The Rings of Saturn by W G Sebald (Harvill pounds 12). Consistently mesmerising, Sebald's strangely seductive second book seems to be a straightforward intellectual autobiography complete with documentary photographs of a walking tour in East Anglia. But its compelling, slightly neurotic tone grows into something more haunting, more profound and filled with a unique poetry.
It's been a fascinating year for fiction, striking out in all kinds of different directions, both in storytelling techniques and in choice of unexpected material. Paradise by Toni Morrison recasts the political novel for our times, dramatising with her dazzling polyphonic technique a remarkable Utopian experiment this century. Morrison combines heightened language with thriller-like impact as she unfolds an often terrible story of a separatist black community. Hilary Mantel in The Giant O'Brien (Fourth Estate pounds 14.99) relates the encounter between a tragic and fantastical Irish giant and the dissector and doctor who want his body for study, creating a peculiar allegory about the extremes of rationalist science in the stews and laboratories of 18th-century London. Next (Carcanet pounds 9.95) is an impressively bold, imaginative record by Christine Brooke-Rose of the thought and wanderings of a group of homeless men and women in London today, written in a highly experimental technique that actually reproduces the somnambulist diction of Estuarian. I was moved and enthralled, too, by Ruth Padel's intense and sensitive sequence of poems Rembrandt Would Have Loved You (Chatto pounds 7.99), which charts the play of passion in a love affair with a tremendous richness of sustained images and allusions.
A feeling for street-level, end-of-the-century England wittily captured by Simon Armitage in All Points North (Viking pounds 14.99). The last vestiges of Paradise sent home in the vivid modern journalism of Robert Louis Stevenson's In the South Seas (Penguin pounds 6.99), newly edited by Neil Rennie. The confessional insight of Ian Hamilton's self-seering investigation of early Matthew Arnold in A Gift Imprisoned (Bloomsbury pounds 17.99). The graceful humour of Stephen Romer's new poems, Tribute (OUP pounds 6.99), which does honour to the now dishonoured OUP, who have decided to sacrifice their poetry list to their dictionaries, Bibles and over-staffed bureaucracy.
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