True or false

You require intellectual stimulation from a holiday. You discover to your horror that your partner has booked you both on a fortnight's package to the Caribbean.

You must, therefore, resign yourself to two weeks of cultural starvation.

That is, of course, false. As an intellectual, you will already have read the epic poem "Omeros" by the Nobel prizewinner Derek Walcott from St Lucia, and you will remember that his island boasts a second Nobel laureate in the economist Arthur Lewis, though you haven't read him yet. You also make a vow to read Martin Amis on St Lucia.

But in case your flight is diverted to the Dominican Republic, breaks down in Puerto Rico or is hijacked to Havana, you buy The Caribbean, a Traveller's Literary Companion, which sees readers out of tight corners everywhere from Tobago to the Bahamas. Every geographic section has a cultural introduction, letting you know, for instance, that Barbados is a little too English, almost suburban, for some tastes, and that Brimstone Hill in St Kitts has a wonderful fortress, the Gibraltar of the West Indies. Then there follow extracts from the best books written about each place.

So if you are eventually carted off to the Dominican Republic, the Companion is on your side. It starts you off with an extract of the mendacious sales patter that Columbus - the 15th-century equivalent of a parliamentary lobbiest - gave to Ferdinand and Isabella, claiming that the rivers ran with gold. Then comes Quentin Crewe's tale of the restaurant in the town of Samana which serves filete Gordon Blur.

Sometimes the Companion tries to put you off places. Noel Coward's elegant puncturing of Frenchmen's pride in Martinique is reprinted. It ends:

In praising this celestial

Freak

They, one and all omit to

speak

About its flat cathedral

bells

Its indescribable hotels

The noisome and

disgusting smells

That make the island

reek."

On your return to Islington, you don't tell anyone about Dr James Ferguson's invaluable book, because it would give away the source of your new-found encyclopaedic and cosmopolitan knowledge.

But when you are preening yourself over cocktails in Chelsea, squelch any reference to literary figures from Guyana, because the otherwise exemplary guide sadly fails to include that magical country.

Oh, and it contains a foreword by Margaret Drabble, a recommendation for the older litterateur.

That can't be bad.

`The Caribbean, a Traveller's

Literary Companion', by James Ferguson (In Print Publishing, pounds 13.95).

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