This peerless travel writer has turned from the watery milieux of Old Glory and Coasting to a rolling prairie "hardly more solitary" than the ocean. As a recent US immigrant himself, he declares a kinship with settlers drawn by the promise of easy pickings ("Alfalfa is the best mortgage-lifter ever known") to the arid plains of Montana. The abandoned farmsteads, still cluttered with their poignant possessions, tell a different story. Though darker and less buoyant than his earlier works, Raban's narrative is laden with keen-eyed, breathtakingly articulate perceptions.
The Faber Book of Treachery edited by Nigel West (Faber, pounds 9.99)
Despite our proud tradition of upper-class treachery, Britons only merit 47 pages in this anthology. Curiously, Kim Philby's apologia goes unmentioned, though the infamous wartime broadcasts by P G Wodehouse (an evil masterspy if ever there was one) are included. By contrast, the former Soviet bloc accounts for almost 200 pages. West's impressively comprehensive selection reveals that there is no stereotypical turncoat - uncompromising high principles sit alongside seedy opportunism - but almost all the 80 extracts have one thing in common. Only four are by women.
The Characters of Love
by Susie Boyt (Phoenix, pounds 5.99)
Let down badly by her glamorous father who abandons her for a job in America, 15-year-old Nell conceives a passion for a middle-aged poet instead. This unsuitable liaison ("She could smell him. Toothpaste and cigarette smoke. Perfect") becomes a nightmarish entanglement when Nell's innocent crush turns into full-blown obsession. Boyt's excellent second novel is a poignant blend of schoolgirl-speak and ironic detachment.
Facts and Fancies by Armando Iannucci (Penguin, pounds 6.99)
The brain behind On the Hour should have resisted the temptation to gather his Guardian essays into a permanent form. Such laboured outpourings as "Towards a Unified Theory of Nursery Rhymes" may work in the pages of a newspaper, but collected together their weaknesses become apparent - particularly the repeated incongruities and hackneyed targets (pop lyrics, opera, Morris dancers). There is a lack of discipline here - Iannucci seems to think that anything he writes will be amusing - but the
main flaw is that his slack inventiveness cannot compare with the absurdities of real life.
Carl Gustav Jung by Frank McLynn (Black Swan, pounds 12.99)
A doctor who griped about "odious corporeality", a psychologist who refused to treat schizophrenics, a Freudian protege who later regarded his mentor's work as "trash", Jung is an oddly contradictory figure. Despite producing a superbly stimulating - if fairly demanding - investigation of this hugely influential figure, it is evident that McLynn does not warm to his "hectoring, domineering" subject. New Age devotees may be surprised to learn that their great guru, who "constantly sought to fuse all knowledge into a whole", also flirted with anti-Semitism in the Thirties and was "proud of his ability to seduce women".
The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century Ghost Stories edited by Michael Cox (OUP, pounds 7.99)
In 1944 Edmund Wilson expressed surprise that people still read ghost stories in the age of the electric light. But, as this imaginative collection shows, it takes more than a 40watt bulb to chase the shadows away. In F Scott Fitzgerald's festive story, "A Short Trip Home", a group of rosy- cheeked Yalies are joined in their revelries by a sunken-eyed stranger; in Alison Lurie's "Highboy", a sinister piece of furniture exerts a malign influence over its new owner. Also included are classic period frighteners from Algernon Blackwood and E Nesbit, and post-modern apparitions from Muriel Spark, Jane Gardam and William Trevor.
The Vintage Book of Ghosts edited by Jenny Uglow (Vintage, pounds 7.99)
Jenny Uglow's extensive anthology of ghostly literature reads like a well-stocked school books cupboard - extracts from the works of Homer, Shakespeare, Blake, Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Wilfred Owen and Sylvia Plath appear alongside snippets of Norse epics and Elizabethan lullabies. Not as enjoyable as a collection of ghost stories, these unquiet dead are usually silenced just as they're getting into their chain-rattling stride.Reuse content