An exceptional travel book on Spain, written with precision and grace, which occasionally detours to muse on the country's greatest artists. Exulting in the "completely unknown world" ignored by millions of tourists, Nooteboom's recommendations are excellent. Exploring a remote shepherd's hut, he notes "the place could date from any time, from 500 years ago, a thousand, even longer... this land evokes feelings of eternity". Like Spain itself, this essential book should not be rushed.
Exit, Orange and Red by Martyn Bedford (Black Swan, pounds 6.99)
For Martyn Bedford, Sheffield, and in particular the city's giant shopping mall, is bathed in a perpetual post-apocalyptic grey. Every bit as creepy and absorbing as his first novel, Acts of Revision, Bedford's latest intertwines two histories: the story of Constance Amory, a young reporter on the Hallam Evening Crucible, and that of her great grandfather, a disgruntled cutlery worker. A dual narrative thriller that works, with a spot of romance thrown in.
Journals 1990-1992 by Anthony Powell (Heinemann, pounds 12.99)
The latest vol of Powelliana is an enthralling mix of good sense and bizarre quirkiness. The author is increasingly subject to the ravages of old age, though wine and literature remain potent pleasures. AP's opinions are enjoyably spikey: Our Mutual Friend is "unremitting rubbish"; "there is something a bit phoney about Chatwin". His genealogical obsession provides much unconscious humour - a lensman called Crowley is "no relation to the Beast 666", but a journalist named Wake is "of the `Hereward' family". There are sparkling memories of Connolly and Waugh ("has claims to having been the most bossy man who ever lived").
The Journal of Antonio Montoya by Rick Collignon (Fourth Estate, pounds 6.99)
Ramona's long dead grandparents are alive and well and driving round the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in a secondhand pick-up truck. Rick Collignon's haunting, and haunted, novel, set in a New Mexico village tells the story of Ramona, a struggling artist who, in middle-age, finds herself adopting a recently orphaned nephew. Appearing with some words of advice is Ramona's stoic granny, Rosa. Half the characters in this short and earthy book may be ghosts, but the New Mexico landscape they inhabit fills the pages to bursting.
The Beginning of the End by Angelo Quattrocchi and Tom Nairn (Verso, pounds 9)
Quattrocchi's bulletins from the boulevards of Paris '68 crackle with fire and hope: "The black waves [riot police] exhale blue gases... Paris, lend your ears and hear the screaming of your troops advancing". For anyone wishing to feel the electric thrill of three decades ago, this prose-poem is hard to beat, though Quattrocchi's belief that "the spider's web must become an umbilical cord between the Sorbonne and Billancourt [the Renault plant]" was a sad misreading of reality. Tom Nairn's contemporary essay, "Why it Happened", is stodgy dialectic ("the tensions inherent in the matrix of material production...") but such opaque verbosity was also central to soixante-huit.
Bright Angel Time by Martha McPhee (Faber, pounds 6.99)
Eight-year-old Kate and her two older sisters used to dress in white socks and ironed blouses until their mother abandoned domesticity (and their father) in favour of a turquoise camper and life on the road. Reminiscent of Esther Freud's memories of a bohemian childhood, McPhee's first novel, told through the clear-sighted eyes of Kate, captures the less fragrant realities of flower power - such as seeing your mother strip off in a California hot tub with her therapist/lover, and learning to share a small mobile home with five newly adopted brothers and sisters.
The Oxford Illustrated History of Ireland edited by R F Foster (pounds 13.99)
The authors of the five lucid essays in this book take full advantage of the opportunity to engage in some trenchant demythologising - and there is no shortage of targets in the land of saints and scholars. We learn that the country which produced the Book of Kells also benefited from a slave trade "extensive and profitable down to the twelfth century". In our own century, de Valera executed republican terrorists when in power, but "the most alarming challenge" to the Free State came from the proto- fascist "Blueshirts". With a text unchanged from 1989, the tone of the final chapters is rather more pessimistic than if they had been written today.Reuse content