Books; Hypewatch

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The Authors: Hilary du Pre and Piers du Pre, older sis and younger bro of cello legend Jacqueline. H is a flautist, P a businessman; both life-long victims - now beneficiaries - of middle England's home-grown Jackie myth.

The Book: A Genius in the Family (Chatto & Windus, pounds 16.99) This "intimate memoir" of Jacqueline doesn't pretend to be a proper biography. Instead, it tells "simply what happens" (they claim): Jackie's troubled youth as a musical prodigy, the fast-track career, the stormy marriage to Daniel Barenboim and bizarre affair with Hilary's husband "Kiffer"; and the harrowing 14-year struggle with MS she lost (aged 42) in 1987.

The Deal: Rumours that the angel of the Surrey suburbs could - after her affliction - behave like Purley's answer to Madonna had hovered round the spotless legend for years. They surfaced (in part) via a biography from Carol Easton in 1989. That prompted the touchy Barenboim to authorise a life by cellist Elizabeth Wilson, due in spring 1998. With juicy bits expensively plastered all over The Times, this skewed siblings'-eye-view acts as an almighty spoiler (in every sense).

The Goods: Their would-be "honest portrait" strains credulity on every page with verbatim transcripts of long conversations a quarter of a century ago. Piers and Hilary pass the narrative to and fro with gushing professions of love and respect. Yet, sotto voce, both sound spiteful and bitter. They spare us no details of the MS-driven erosion of personality ("Many a male visitor would be alarmed by the greeting `Fuck me'"). Jackie emerges as a scheming hysteric - even before MS kicked in - who thrust her family into the shade and then muscled her way into a painful menage a trois. Sibling rivalry doesn't come much weirder than this.

The Verdict: The stress falls massively on "family" rather than "genius". As ghastly proof of the way that a huge gift can derail those nearest to it, the book has plenty of macabre fascination. For a broad view of the beloved virtuoso, wait for Elizabeth Wilson.

The Alternative: Musical melodrama

1/ Jessica Douglas-Home, Violet: life of the early-music pioneer with four live-in chaps.

2/ Meryl Secrest, Leonard Bernstein: High-octane life of barnstorming bisexual maestro.

3/ Norman Lebrecht, When the Music Stops: savagely funny expose of the classical racket.

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