Paperbacks: Jane and Prudence<br/>My Name Was Judas<br/>The Fall of Troy<br/>Le Bal<br/>Bollywood: a History<br/> Yes!<br/>Higher Ground

Friday 23 November 2007 01:00
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Reviewed by By Emma Hagestadt, Boyd Tonkin & Katy Guest

Jane and Prudence, by Barbara Pym (Virago £7.99)

How nice it would have been to read Barbara Pym on the comic complications of internet dating. Instead, her singletons contented themselves with crushes on gay clergymen and unsuitable colleagues. The author's 1953 novel Jane and Prudence, re-issued by Virago and accompanied by a witty introduction by Jilly Cooper, remains a startlingly fresh portrait of what Cooper describes as "the utter desolation of losing a man, or not having one to love". At an Oxford reunion, good friends Jane and Prudence take a stroll through the college gardens.

An unlikely pair, Jane is in her forties, a vicar's wife with a bad haircut, while Prudence, 29, prides herself on her unchipped nails and smart London flat. Despite Jane's attempts to find her friend a husband, Prudence remains addicted to desultory affairs, and has recently persuaded herself of the charms of her deeply uninspiring boss. Unwaveringly realistic in her portrayal of men, Pym's romantic leads are more likely to appear in the guise of Mr Collins than Mr Darcy. During a weekend at Jane's cold vicarage, Prudence is introduced to Fabian Driver, a seemingly inconsolable widower whose marriage was spent bedding other women. As ever in Pym's fiction, even the most unworthy of men is quickly surrounded by a circle of devoted female fans. EH

My Name Was Judas, by CK Stead (Vintage £7.99)

In a biblical frame of mind, the New Zealand novelist CK Stead retells the gospel according to Judas Iscariot, one of Christianity's more fallible figures. As an old man, Judas recalls his boyhood with Jesus, and their progress from Nazareth to Jerusalem. Taking a few fictional liberties, Stead imagines a falling-out between Jesus and his mother, Mary, and Lazarus as a bed-ridden invalid in need of a bit of coaxing. But Jesus doesn't deviate too much from the set text. Pursued by female groupies, he cools them with an "equal, benevolent, undifferentiating – even unfocused – gaze". EH

The Fall of Troy, by Peter Ackroyd (Vintage £7.99)

One time frame is never quite enough to satisfy Peter Ackroyd's large brain: his historical creations are usually themselves fixated on a yet more distant past. It's the late 19th-century and archaeologist Herr Obermann (Ackroyd's stand-in for Heinrich Schliemann) is convinced that he's discovered the site of ancient Troy. A fan of Homer, he seeks to unearth Homer's world, which was to Homer already archaic. His co-excavator is Greek bride Sophia Chrysanthis, a young woman well aware that her husband is wilfully destroying finds that contradict his vision. An impressively concise novel of ideas though, like passages of the Iliad, lacking emotional heft . EH

Le Bal, by Irène Némirovsky, trans. Sandra Smith (Vintage)

Since the posthumous success of Suite Française, many of Irène Némirovksy's earlier works have been translated into English for the first time. Collected here are two elegant novellas, Le Bal and Snow in Autumn: stories drawn from the author's own experiences of émigré life in prewar Paris. Le Bal captures an insidiously unhealthy relationship between a socially ambitious mother and her 14-year-old daughter. The second entry, no less accomplished, is told by an elderly servant who watches as her employers, a family of wealthy Russians, slip into penury and Chekhovian decline. EH

Bollywood: a History, by Mihir Bose (Tempus £9.99)

Steamy romance, fearsome mobsters, ostentatious splendour, sudden reversals of fortune: and that's just what goes on behind the scenes. Bollywood may be the planet's biggest dream factory, but it also has a history of politics, power and personality, which Mihir Bose (now the BBC News sports editor) tells with all the loving relish of a proper Mumbaikar. Cinema came to Bombay in 1896, feature-film production in 1913: Bose zestfully traces the growth of a colonial cottage industry into a sprawling global business. A feast of colour, drama and scandal, even if you can't tell one starry Khan or Kapoor from another. BT

Yes!, by Noah J Goldstein (PhD) et al (Profile £8.99)

The authors could argue that getting it published at all proves that this book, subtitled "50 secrets from the science of persuasion", contains all the secrets of getting what you want. They don't let on whether they succeeded using Post-it notes (chapter 10) or crayons (14), but all the tips for getting a "yes" are just as inventive and intriguing. Now we just need a book to tell us how to say "no". KG

Higher Ground, by Rhiannon Batten (Virgin Books £12.99)

This could be the book that Independent readers have been looking for. Rhiannon Batten's guide to "how to travel responsibly without roughing it" is about more than just grey water and guilt – sorry, carbon – off-setting. Instead, it suggests looking for better ways to enjoy the finer things in life, the philosophy being that it is "more luxurious to travel across Europe by sleeper train than to join the scrum on a budget airline". KG

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