Paperbacks

Dear George by Helen Simpson, (Minerva, 5.99) Helen Simpson's second collection of short stories is every bit as exuberant as her first. Bucking the trend of short stories as brief illuminatory interludes, Simpson likes her tales to close with a dramatic ending or unexpected twist. In the title story a young girl's erotic fantasies are horrifyingly broadcast to an outside world, while in Caput April a family takes Roald Dahl-like revenge on a bullying father. Funniest are her stories about relationships under stress: To Her Unready Boyfriend will be appreciated by broody women everywhere.

Gorleston by Henry Sutton (Sceptre, pounds 5.99)

The East Anglian town of Gorleston (along with its pink bungalows, plastic rockeries and municipal carparks) is gradually crumbling into the North sea. But not so its population of lively old folk who pass their days in a sherry-soused whirl of social activity. Newly-widowed Percy invests in a new Marks and Spencer and joins the fray. Comic and poignant in equal measure, Henry Sutton's first novel pulls off the stunning feat of humanizing an out-of-season seaside resort.

The Great Divorce by Valerie Martin (Black Swan, 6.99)

Valerie Martin's latest novel jumps dramatically (almost comically) between past and present: moving between the lives of Ellen and Camille, who tend to the great cats at New Orleans Zoo, and Elisabeth, "Catwoman of St. Francisville," hanged in 1845 for tearing out her husband's throat. Double narratives are all the rage among novelists at the moment, but at least in Martin's case the two texts (both of which feature uncivilized men and feral sex) are equally compelling. A pleasant dose of gothic horror.

Brian Johnston by Tim Heald (Mandarin, pounds 5.99) The biggest shock in this enjoyable biography occurs on page 228 when the widow of the gateau-obsessed commentator reveals: "He didn't like cake" and never ate it at home. Heald speculates that he consumed enough at work. In many respects, Johnners appeared a real-life Bertie Wooster, with an infuriating love of practical jokes - but he was also "ruthlessly self-disciplined", failing to hit it off with the bibulous Arlott. The fact that only a couple of dozen pages are devoted to cricket reveals his spread of interests. While reflecting Johnston's love of fun, Heald probes beneath the breezy facade.

Mister Sandman by Barbara Gowdy (Flamingo, pounds 8.99)

Being a Canadian writer, Barbara Gowdy has inevitably been compared to Margaret Atwood and Carol Shields, and indeed she is like them, only on double speed. Her second novel introduces the Canary family: baby Joan (a brain-damaged toddler who lives in a closet), sister Marcy (who fancies her babysitter), Sonja (mother to baby Joan, though no one knows this), and their parents Doris and Gordon (both in the throes of homosexual affairs). Sixties Canada as you never knew it.

Oblivion by Josephine Hart (Vintage, pounds 5.99) From the author of Damage and Sin comes another glitzy-titled novel. But light entertainment it isn't. Examining an interesting idea - how the living kill off the dead through forgetfulness - the book tells how a young woman's death impacts on the lives of those leaves behind (sic) (particularly significant in the case of her husband and his newly rejuvenated sex life). Turgid stuff, especially the novel's middle section which consists of a series of ghostly monologues from the "other side".

Britons by Linda Colley (Vintage, pounds 8.99) A brilliant, gossipy account of 18th and early 19th centuries, when modern Britain came into being. Exploring the era with impressive erudition and a sharp eye for detail, Colley reveals that many factors underlying our current unease can be traced back to this period. Yet it would be a mistake to buy this book - or at least this edition. For another pounds 3.51, you can buy the larger Pimlico paperback edition, which contains illustrations of the many pictures which Colley discusses at length. It is also printed on decent paper rather than material which appears to be a by-product of the porridge industry.

The Red King's Dream by Jo Elwyn Jones & J Francis Gladstone (Pimlico, pounds 10) An engaging addition to the burgeoning library of Carrolliana. Its paradoxical title (did the King dream of Alice or vice-versa?) hints at the speculative discoveries of the authorial duo. They see the Alice stories as coded assaults on the Victorian hierarchy, with the Mouse's tale/ tail providing a vital key. A major target was Dean Liddell (Alice's father) but Tennyson, Ruskin and Darwin are other bit-players in Wonderland. Like Jonathan Miller's hallucinatory film - also inspired by the real-life originals of Carroll's creations - this book is a stimulating reading of these quirky masterpieces.

Cyril Connolly by Clive Fisher (Papermac, pounds 12) In his obituary of this seminal man of letters, Philip Toynbee described him as "one of the funniest men...for all his constant moaning". In this long, excellent biography, Connolly proves a splendid, if occasionally trying, companion. An Elizabeth David of the literary world, he devoted himself to informing the insular British about the wider world. Despite his unfortunate appearance, he was an indefatigable womaniser - his final affair (aet 67) was discovered when his wife found two pedalo tickets in his pocket - though this appetite was possibly surpassed by his passion for the pleasures of the table.

Lost Cowboys by Hank Wangford (Indigo, pounds 6.99) Famous as a yodelling gynaecologist - his backing band has the same name as this book - Dr W proves himself no slouch as a scribe in his account of the overlooked cowpokes of South America, which weaves together travelogue and history (from Bernado O'Higgins to Butch and Sundance) with the drawling humour of a born bronco. On the long trail from Patagonia to Texas, he was fortified by a prodigious intake of beef culminating in spinal cord soup in Mexico. Despite Hank's qualms ("No backbone, that's my trouble), it's a dish one would sooner eat there than here.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

    Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

    Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

    Day In a Page

    Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

    Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

    After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
    The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
    Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

    Tate Sensorium

    New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
    10 best sun creams for kids

    10 best sun creams for kids

    Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
    Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
    Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

    Remember Ashton Agar?

    The No 11 that nearly toppled England
    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks