After her engaging portrait of 18th-century blue-bloods in Aristocrats, this most readable of historians scores another bull's-eye with her account of Edward Fitzgerald (1763-1798). Despite being a scion of the "premier peers" of Ireland, he was an ardent convert to Irish nationalism. From a dramatically cinematic opening during the American revolution, when Fitzgerald's life was saved by a black plantation worker, Tillyard enthrallingly illuminates the short, drama-packed life of this unlikely revolutionary. A lighter side is revealed in his fondness for gardening and his spirited pursuit of the ladies.
The House of Sleep by Jonathan Coe (Penguin, pounds 6.99)
Students together at "Arse-Hole-on-Sea" in the mid-Eighties, Sarah, Gregory and Terry share a large cold house on the edge of a cliff. Ten years on, their paths cross once more when they are brought back to the house, now operating as a sleep clinic. Alternating between the two decades, Coe weaves a story of increasing cunning and complexity. A witty, entertaining writer - especially good on student bathroom and bedroom life - Coe's reputation justifiably swells with each new book.
No Mercy by David Buckley (Coronet, pounds 6.99)
In 1974, a research biochemist, a karate-practising neo-Nazi turned socialist and an ageing ice-cream entrepreneur joined forces to become "one of the most genuinely outrageous [bands] in the post-Beatles pop era". This biography of The Stranglers is outstanding for both readability and objectivity. Although black magic, prodigious drug intake and even prison terms are not exceptional in the rock biz, the group was also notable for intelligence, longevity (they're still at it, sans Hugh Cornwall) and unpredictability - the luscious hit "Golden Brown" was succeeded by "La Folie", a "perverse and grisly" single about cannibalism.
The Cast Iron Shore by Linda Grant (Granta, pounds 6.99)
Winner of the 1996 David Higham Award, Linda Grant's very readable first novel is set over the course of 50 years, and tells the life story of Sybill Ross, the daughter of a Jewish furrier father and a Vogue-reading mother, who leaves the bombed-out streets of Liverpool for a glitzy new life in New York. Reinventing herself as a Bloomingdale's shop assistant, Sybill discovers sex, jazz and Communism, in that order. Particularly good on Fifties New York.
Muddling Through in Madagascar by Dervla Murphy (Flamingo, pounds 6.99)
After a stuffy historical introduction, Murphy's lucid and luminous prose works its customary magic. We're informed that "the Malagasy treat time as something pliable" and have a "penchant for deep holes". We learn about the "remarkable amiability" of Malagasy village dogs, the all-pervading influence of fady (taboo) and the fantastically malevolent plant life of the island. It is a deft and entrancing portrait - but some information should have been updated from 1985. Intending travellers should know that visas can now be obtained in London and no longer require a trip to Paris.
Latest Accessory by Tyne O'Connell (Review, pounds 6.99)
Writen in a hail of exclamation marks and "unzipped" one-liners, Tyne O'Connell's lime-green novel screams New World energy. Set in London, it provides Evelyn Hornton (the wealthy, lawyer star of O'Connell's first novel, Sex, Lies and Litigation) with another chance to run riot in
the city. The exhausting plot - which features an Irish-American detective, two lesbians from Roedean and a stalker in a dirty mac - makes This Life, its televisual equivalent, look tame in comparison.
Continental Drifts by Nicholas Fraser (Vintage, pounds 7.99)
Could this be a first glimpse of the sorely needed "ironic European"? Nicholas Fraser, whose public-school education was tempered by a French grandmother who sent him badly wrapped parcels of Livres de Poche, has written an intriguing collection of essays examining Europe as it approaches the millennium. Featuring Eurostar, Eurocrats, the boulevards of Paris and post-wall Berlin, Britain ("quite prosperous but not specially happy"), Bosnia, and Belgium, explained by one of its natives as being "the equivalent of the famous Magritte picture of a pipe, but with the inscription `Ceci n'est pas un pays' over the map of Belgium".
Have I got mews for you: a bare encounter near Knightsbridge, 1969, by German photographer Frank Habicht, whose In the Sixties (Axis Publishing) captures Cool Britannia the first time roundReuse content