Books: Paperbacks

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This Wild Darkness by Harold Brodkey (Fourth Estate, pounds 6.99)

This astonishing book covers the final months prior to Brodkey's death from Aids. It is the most lucid and unexpectedly joyful of all his works. Drifting from topic to topic - his tortuous family background, hospitals (which sound as bad in New York as here), literature, Venice and his courageous wife - he is angry, unrepentant and always unsentimental. His parting words are literally wonderful: "Peace? There never was any in the world. But in the pliable water, under the sky, unmoored, I am travelling now and hearing myself laugh, at first with nerves and then with genuine amazement. It is all around me."

Europa by Tim Parks (Vintage, pounds 6.99)

Darker than his previous comic novels, Tim Parks's latest Italian avventura is set inside the head of Jerry Marlow, a middle-aged classical scholar en route from Milan to Strasbourg in a state-of-the-art, air-conditioned coach. A three-day-long trip in which he has plenty of time to dwell on the shortcomings of his Italian wife (an obsessive Hooverer), the quality of service-station coffee (too plastic), and the well-dressed charms of his multi-lingual ex-mistress (the only woman he ever loved). Parks at his gleeful best. Shortlisted for last year's Booker Prize.

Freddie Mercury by Lesley-Ann Jones (Coronet, pounds 6.99)

Farrokh Bulsara spent the first 18 years of his life in Zanzibar before metamorphosing into a rock superstar as if by the wave of a fairy wand. Though marred by shoddy production, this is a candid and unexpectedly intriguing account. After Queen's initial success, Mercury grew bored by recording, though his omnivorous libido remained unwilted. His chat- up line "How big's your dick?" can scarcely be an example of his "highly amusing and endearing" camp delivery. Curiously, Jones omits his greeting to Sid Vicious when the two egos collided at Abbey Road: "Ah, Mr Atrocious, I presume."

Himself and Other Animals by David Hughes (Pimlico, pounds 7.99)

Written in the mid-Seventies but unpublished until last year, this glowing portrait of Gerald Durrell acts as a corrective to his slightly monstrous TV image. Hughes's pin-sharp account persuades us that the naturalist was a life-enhancing figure, though not without the defects of being a "character". His joy in consumption ("I want a delicious and for preference unspeakably expensive meal") sometimes gave way to alcoholism. Financially inept, Durrell lugged round a suitcase full of unopened bills. It is scarcely surprising that he disliked Hughes's revelations ("Not you at your best, dear boy") - nevertheless it is excellent.

Original Bliss by A L Kennedy (Vintage, pounds 5.99)

Scottish wunderkind A L Kennedy is not always easy to read, but her latest collection of stories about love and sex (or the lack of it), is as welcoming as it is funny. Wonderful at pin-pointing those empty pauses before a thought is formed, Kennedy's couples have usually broken up a few sentences before they realise it. Many of the stories are set in America and include tales about a cat called Prozac and a student who decides to rescue his ex-girlfriend from what he imagines is a loveless marriage in Ithaca, New York.

Down With the Old Canoe by Steven Biel (Norton, pounds 9.95)

Don't let the current overkill put you off this "cultural history of the Titanic disaster". In his ironically buoyant study, Biel explores the manifold ways in which the tragedy has been freighted with meaning. The film Saved from the Titanic appeared a month after the vessel foundered. Built in 1915, the library at Yale commemorates Harry Elkins Widener, lost because he returned to his cabin to retrieve a rare copy of Bacon's Essays. In "Desolation Row" Bob Dylan enigmatically warned that "The Titanic sails at dawn", while in 1993 a US tabloid said a baby from the ship had been found alive: "She's dressed in 1912 clothes!"

Eat Fat by Richard Klein (Picador, pounds 6.99)

American pundit Richard Klein reckons that 50 per cent of his body fat comes from breakfast - the kind of "crumbly bacon, eggs-over-easy, biscuits and grits" type breakfast that warms the soul and greases the grill. In what he describes as a "post-modern diet book", he calls on the Western world to abandon its obsession with weight loss, and reclaim the pleasures of cushiony breasts and impressive bellies. Dieting, according to this utterly convincing book, not only makes you fatter but sadder.

An Englishman in Moscow (1914) by the Russian painter Malevich, taken from Kazimir Malevich: the climax of disclosure by Rainer Crone and David Moos (Reaktion pounds 19.95) which traces Malevich's life from the Ukraine to the Futurist Circle in Moscow in 1920

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