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Paperbacks: Dandy in the Underworld, by Sebastian Horsley

Artist, poseur, self-crucifier, self-dramatist, rejected entrant to the US (for "moral turpitude"), Horsley is the bastard child of Oscar Wilde and Mae West.

Inside Reviews

Stage Mum, by Lisa Gee

Friday, 4 July 2008

Some people sit on their butts/ Got the dreams, yeah, but not the guts," sang Ethel Merman, playing the mother of all stage mothers, in the original Broadway production of Gypsy. Although this motto is strangely exhilarating and can provide good early-morning motivational ballast, everyone knows stage mothers of this sort are - well - bad. They distort personalities and ride roughshod over childhoods, leaving unhappy adults to pick up the pieces. Each frenzied Mrs Worthington, stage-lore has it, equals at least one brattish, traumatised tot. Drugs and alcohol, we're so often shown, soon replace the lustre of applause once the awkward age looms. Is that the sort of future you want for your child?

The Post-American World, by Fareed Zakaria

Friday, 4 July 2008

If the Roman and British experiences are anything to go by, the literature of American decline has only just begun. Fareed Zakaria has started us off with a thoughtful, reasoned and hopeful sketch of global power and politics in the 21st century. He is not, however, talking to you and me. One key element of the post-American world is that we – the Europeans – will be marginal players. We will be rich and stable but demographically in terminal decline, unable successfully to absorb African and Asian migrants on our peripheries. As events in Ireland show, we are also unable to stomach the creation of federal European institutions that might allow the continent to be a real player. So be it. Europe has done more than enough shaping of the world as it is, and look where it got us.

A Floating Commonwealth, by Christopher Harvie

Friday, 4 July 2008

The train from Wolverhampton to Aberystwyth stuttered along its journey, reversed twice, and eventually expired at the second-last stop. On the way, I had passed a wild rollercoaster of hills and valleys, a grassy chaos which this trainline seemed to have been punched through. When the emergency bus chuntered over the hill to Aberystwyth, the Irish sea seemed to tower over the town like a frozen tsunami, luminous and gray.

The Black Death, by John Hatcher

Friday, 4 July 2008

What can it be like to face the end of the world? The closest I came was in 2003 when I interviewed a doctor outside the Prince of Wales hospital, Hong Kong. Almost all the patients had fled and the doctor insisted we sat outside, six feet apart, wearing surgical masks. It was the height of the Sars outbreak and there was no knowing then how far or how long it would run.

An Atlas of Impossible Longing, by Anuradha Roy

Friday, 4 July 2008

Deftly and sensitively narrated, this first novel is the story of three generations of a Bengali family and Mukunda, the illegitimate child of a tribal woman, who became from the age of six a part of their lives. The events span the first 50 years of the 20th century; and in the three sections of the book, the last spoken by Mukunda, the narrative is punctuated with key dates which link loosely the family's history with that of modern India.

Touching Distance, by Rebecca Abrams

Friday, 4 July 2008

Few subjects divide women as much as childbirth. The happy-clappies who insist it is a natural process rendered painful only by fear are in stark contrast to Rebecca Abrams's observation that it is "one of the riskiest events in a woman's life". I'd like to line up the people who persuade women to do it without an epidural and wrench their teeth out without anaesthetic. In late 18th-century Aberdeen, there was no question that women would do anything other than suffer a home birth; the question was whether they and their babies would survive it. Alexander Gordon may have a beautiful wooden model of the pelvis to persuade midwives to get women onto hands and knees during labour, but they have never heard "vagina" and "rectum" uttered. "He'd make farmyard brutes of good Christian women!" one exclaims.

True Tales of the Wild West, by Clive Sinclair

Friday, 4 July 2008

Thirty years of my working life were spent as rabbi of a large congregation across the road from Lord's. Unsurprisingly, my chief relaxation was cricket, closely followed by cowboy films. I reckoned that on either subject I was the most knowledgeable person in Anglo-Jewry, until I met a pillar of the Nottingham Jewish community who had been something big with the National Coal Board and had seen Larwood and Voce plain. Then in my own congregation I discovered Clive Sinclair, like me weaned on 1950s Westerns and indelibly marked by them, but with an uncanny recall for their dialogue and mise en scene far beyond my own.

Strange Fruit, by Kenan Malik

Friday, 4 July 2008

In one of his stories, the novelist Joseph Roth observes that it has come to be believed that every individual must now be a member of a particular race or nation. People have begun to think of themselves as Czechs, Hungarians, Romanians, Croats: each belongs to a group defined by the exclusion of others. A Jew from Galicia, until the end of the First World War part of the multinational Austro-Hungarian Empire, Roth viewed the spread of nationalism with foreboding. If the ramshackle Habsburg monarchy collapsed, he feared, the result would be xenophobia and ethnic mass murder.

The Jive Talker, by Samson Kambalu

Friday, 4 July 2008

Samson Kambalu's memoir of growing up in Malawi ends with the death of his beloved mother. She is the sixth in his family to die from Aids, including his father. But this is no misery memoir. On the contrary, it is often very funny, as well as original and earnest. That it took an hour to walk to primary school could be an opportunity for self-pity. But for Kambalu, his first walk to school, toddling along beside his mother, is "one of the happiest memories" of his life.

Paperbacks: Greater Love, by Lucy Wadham

Friday, 4 July 2008

Lucy Wadham's fascination with southern Europe has lent her fiction an exotic edge. Her first two novels, set in Corsica and the Basque country, captured an over-heated world of small time crooks and Maquis-style terrorism. Greater Love relates the history of a pair of Portuguese siblings, and their accidental involvement with a group of Islamic fundamentalists.

More reviews:

Columnist Comments


Deborah Orr: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

But try not to forget that fear is the enemy


Howard Jacobson: Slow down. And take a good long look

Today I write in praise of what used to be called concentration


Andrew Grice: Obama shows how to reconnect with the people

Cameron and Clegg seem more alive to the need to clean the Commons up

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