Books: Paperbacks

Great Parliamentary Scandals by Matthew Parris (Robson, pounds 12.99)

Considering the ceaseless torrent of fresh material, updating this work looks set to be a regular task for the excellent Times columnist. Noting that "writing the book proved less of a giggle than perhaps I hoped", Parris is sympathetic to many who fell from grace. In particular, he expresses regret that Thorpe did not try to have Scott murdered ("I would have") and notes that David Ashby has been "immeasurably improved" by the homosexual scandal that cost him his seat. This crisp record of murky doings and complex imbroglios is rich entertainment, but not at the cost of compassion.

The Silver Castle by Clive James (Picador, pounds 5.99)

You'd never think Clive James was such a softie, but his latest novel about a little Bombay street boy is a heart-string tugger of the first order. Born on to a stretch of pavement shared by two copulating dogs, Sanjay is pushed into a world of open sewers and limited horizons. The one highlight of his early years is a secret foray into the precincts of Bombay's Film City. Later his good looks get him into the air-conditioned bedrooms of well-cologned Western men. As heart-warming as a Dickensian Christmas.

Just the One by Graham Lord (Headline, pounds 7.99)

While lacking the elegant prose of his subject, this life of Jeff Bernard is an enjoyable read - though it suffers from the repetition inevitable in any account of addiction. Bernard didn't like it much, but Lord is far from damning. We learn that Jeff had the guts to stay on the wagon for over three years in the early Seventies. Even more impressively, he continued to produce a lively column while in terminal decline. A new afterword recalls Bernard's prediction: "Knowing my luck, I'll get no obituaries because I'll die on the same day as the Queen Mother." In fact, it was between Princess Diana and Mother Teresa.

Getting Rid of Mr Kitchen by Charles Higson (Abacus, 6.99)

If Mr Kitchen hadn't had such a flat accent or worn such ridiculously large black boots, he probably wouldn't have ended up dead in the boot of an ex-public school boy's Saab. But, as you might expect from this writer, producer of and performer on The Fast Show, class will do it every time. An energetic comedy of disasters with plenty of jokes for the boys about curries and condoms and, for the girls, a scarily accurate description of a forceps delivery.

David Lean by Kevin Brownlow (Faber, pounds 16.99)

This revealing work, which began as an "as told to" autobiography, is on the same grand scale as Lean's widescreen epics. Brownlow is a master storyteller and every page teams with anecdotes. At Lean's insistence, there are a large number of excellent illustrations. Like his star, Noel Coward, the glamorous panjandrum of British cinema originated from suburban Croydon. Despite his wealth and elan, Lean emerges as unexpectedly vulnerable. After the disastrous Ryan's Daughter, he "disappeared" for 15 years. In Julie Christie's view, he was "a human being who couldn't quite sort things out".

The God Child by Paul Sayer (Bloomsbury, pounds 6.99)

Since winning the Whitbread prize in 1988 for his first novel The Comforts of Madness, Paul Sayer has been labelled as an author who writes bleak books about bleak subjects. But his latest novel, an absorbing thriller set in a North Yorkshire seaside hotel, should put paid to all that. The story of a young girl who murders her boyfriend, and then looks to her well-meaning uncle for help, is Ripley-esque in its cunning. A tale of bad bar food, and less than clean counterpanes.

Victims of Memory by Mark Prendergrast (HarperCollins, pounds 9.99)

An investigative reporter (His last book probed Coca-Cola), Prendergrast embarked on this 745-page study of "false memory syndrome" when first one, then the other, of his daughters made "vague allegations of childhood sexual abuse". Drawing parallels with the witch craze, he suggests that this horrific phenomenon stems partly from Freud's unfounded theories on repression and partly from the unfeasibly high expectations of baby boomers. His objective survey makes an unanswerable case for the infinite suggestibility of the human mind. Nevertheless, his daughters remain estranged from him.

Such a perfect face: an enigmatic Lou Reed poses for Stephen Shore, the (then 17-year-old) photographer whose new book `The Velvet Years: 1965-67' (Pavilion, pounds 9.99) provides a remarkable record of Andy Warhol's extraordinary Sixties community in the Factory

Spoken word

Another year, another crop of good resolutions. Put them in perspective and release your inner bitch with three glorious hours of Bridget Jones's Diary (Macmillan, pounds 8.99), read with just the right degree of wisecracking irony crossed with 30-something desperation by Tracie Bennett. Helen Fielding's confessions of a justified sinner and irresolute feminist starts on New Year's Day with the most unkeepable set of resolutions since Canute, and never looks back.

I mentioned the Mr Punch Productions version of Letters and Journals of Lord Nelson a few months ago. Horry-worshippers will find that Nelson: A Personal History (Penguin, 3hrs, pounds 8.99) by Christopher Hibbert, read by Tim Pigott-Smith, is an excellent supplement to it. This is perfect listening on the riverboat down to Greenwich to see the new Nelson Gallery at the Maritime Museum.

Christina Hardyment

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