Saturday 08 August 1998
This volume condenses 20 years of chat with the great warrior. We learn not only his admiration of Napoleon, whose defence of Paris was "Excellent - quite excellent", and his scorn for an enemy general ("Don Carlos merely answered with an Hah! Hah! Hah! Hah! - one of the silliest devils I ever knew") but also that he had central heating installed in 1834: "The Duke showed me his new apparatus for warming the house by tubes of hot water. It had cost pounds 219." His views are often far-sighted. As early as 1845, he insisted: "I confess I feel no great security in any English colony". It is a pleasure to sit round the radiator with the old boy.
Rules of the Wild by Francesca Marciano (Cape, pounds 9.99)
White Mischief revisited - except this generation of ex-pats are more excited by a hand-me-down Hello! and a packet of Hobnobs than orgies and ostrich feathers. Set in Nairobi, Marciano's very readable first novel tells the story of Esme, a resourceful Euro-yuppie who, while making a new life for herself in Africa, falls for two very different men: Adam, a handsome bush boy, and Hunter, a misogynistic (but strangely alluring) stringer for the Independent. Karen Blixen rewritten by Bridget Jones.
On Queer Street by Hugh David (HarperCollins, pounds 8.99)
Kissed by a man who kissed Bosie, the author notes that he is "only two pecks away from Oscar Wilde". David deftly traces the social history of homosexuality in Britain from the "long aftermath" of the Wilde trial (though Philip Hoare in Wilde's Last Stand insists that it wasn't so long) to post-Aids disillusion. In the interwar period, he describes "a tacit agreement between the homosexual and the wider community". The dour Fifties put paid to that, but an "ostensibly unnatural conjunction of agit-prop marching and self-satisfied partying" meant that "the whole of Thatcher's Britain became a giant YMCA" by the Eighties.
Eleven Days by Donald Harstad (Fourth Estate, pounds 9.99)
Like Patricia Cornwall, ex-cop turned novelist Donald Harstad's main claim to fame is that he knows what a pair of testicles look like when whizzed up in the blender. Set in a remote corner of Iowa, the novel kicks off with the discovery of several mutilated bodies and one dead dog. It's up to Deputy Sheriff Houseman (with help from FBI special agent Hester Gorse) to comb the corn-fields for an answer. A good place to hide spare parts.
Rebels and Outcasts by Charlie Pye-Smith (Penguin, pounds 7.99)
Despite cover reviews confined to the Catholic Herald and The Tablet, this "journey through Christian India" is too enjoyable to be restricted to believers. Indeed, the happy-clappy brigade may take against Pye-Smith's sympathetic account of a New Delhi priest. "'So you believe it's possible for Muslims, Hindus, whoever, to reach paradise?' I asked. 'If there is one,' he replied." Supplying succinct verbal shapshots, Pye-Smith pursues a faith observed by around 30 million. Our own threadbare clergy may gain solace from an ancient Jesuit in Goa who is "particularly impressed by the fact that Anglican vicars earned over pounds 10,000 a year".
The New Life by Orhan Pamuk (Faber, pounds 6.99)
Described by its publicists as the fastest-selling novel in Turkish history, Orhan Pamuk's third novel is not quite as exhilarating as it sounds. Part road-novel, part metaphysical mystery, it tells the story of a young student whose life is transformed after reading a magical book, and who then goes on to survive a Ballardian coach crash and an enigmatic love affair. Some evocative descriptions of the Anatolian steppe en route.
The Life & Strange Surprising Adventures of Daniel Defoe by Richard West (Flamingo, pounds 8.99)
You won't find a more enjoyable or action-packed work on the biography shelves. We learn that, prior to inventing the English novel, Defoe's desperate money-making schemes - they included buying 70 civet cats for pounds 850 - resulted in him going bankrupt for the stupendous sum of pounds 17,000. A prominent spy for Queen Anne, he advocated the creation of the forerunners of M15 and M16. For badmouthing London aldermen in a scabrous lampoon, he was condemned to three days in the pillory, but was pelted only with flowers. Defoe's restless, inventive spirit produced an all-time bestseller in Robinson Crusoe, but even on his death bed he was still harried by duns.
Night moves: one of the cult covers by Dave McKean from the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman. Taken from Dustcovers: the collected Sandman covers 1989-1997 by Dave McKean (Titan Books, pounds 16.99)
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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