The best of the new books
Selected Stories, By Stefan Zweig
PUSHKIN PRESS £9.99
' Fans of old movies may be familiar with Letter from an Unknown Woman, starring Joan Fontaine, which was adapted from Stefan Zweig's 1922 novella telling the story of a playboy and his amours from the point of view of one of the discarded women. Abortive relationships between men and women dominate this splendid collection, where a touch or a fleeting memory illuminates the cruelty or the ignorance of an individual.
In 'Fantastic Night', an Austrian lieutenant remembers the night that changed him from a self-indulgent young man into a caring individual - and during which he stole money, consorted with a prostitute and was almost robbed. As in many of these stories, the more sordid aspects - not necessarily of life, but of character - are revealed.
In 'The Fowler Snared', a man's manipulations of a young girl expose his moral vacuity; in 'Buchmendel', a whole society's mistreatment of a Jewish book-pedlar shocks one of his former customers, who had forgotten the old man and, in doing so, behaved just as badly.
Human frailties and human cruelties are Zweig's eternal themes...'
The Love Children, By Marilyn French
THE FEMINIST PRESS £11.99 (327PP) (FREE P&P) FROM THE INDEPENDENT BOOKSHOP: 08430 600 030
' When The Women's Room was first published in 1977, it was as if Marilyn French had dropped 'a bomb in the comfortable concentration camp of the American suburbs,' says Susan Faludi. The psychodrama of Mira's stultifying, ball-and-chain marriage to Norm outraged the critics, roused a generation of housewives who had sat, anesthetised, in the dull suburban drawing rooms of East Coast America and became, in part, the fire in the canon of second-wave feminism.
Now, some 30 years after that explosive moment comes the follow-up, The Love Children. The final novel French wrote before she died last year, it is not so much a bomb as a round of gunfire aimed at the present day. She had fired such sallies before - in 2006, she bemoaned that 'feminism has almost disappeared from the surface of our society'. With this novel, French takes us back to the beginning to reflect on the ideals of this apparently lost cause...'
Seeing Further, Edited by Bill Bryson
HARPERPRESS £25 (490PP) £22.50 (FREE P&P) FROM THE INDEPENDENT BOOKSHOP: 08430 600 030
'This volume is a timely reminder of the vital role played by the sciences, and particularly by the Royal Society, in our lives. It is, as Bryson says, 'the scientific conscience of the nation'.'
A Carpet Ride to Khiva, By Christopher Aslan Alexander
ICON BOOKS £14.99 (334PP) £13.49 (FREE P&P) FROM THE INDEPENDENT BOOKSHOP: 08430 600 030
'The British author collected his middle name in Turkey where he was born, his fearlessness from a childhood spent in war-torn Beirut, and his idealism - one has to deduce this, because he's personally reticent - from a can-do brand of Christianity. Volunteering to work in Central Asia for a Swedish NGO, he begins to compile a guide book to the medieval Uzbek oasis of Khiva. Meanwhile, he finds himself embarking on a much more quixotic project: to set up a carpet workshop, in which the ancient arts of Khivan dyeing and weaving will be brought back to life...'
The Bed I Made, By Lucie Whitehouse
' A quality literary mystery is a tricky thing to pull off. The required elements of psychological acuity, plot invention, engaging settings and prose style allow all too easily for cracks to appear in a conceit's veneer. Great exponents of the form, from the classic, such as Daphne du Maurier and Charles Dickens, to contemporary writers such as Donna Tartt and Mark Mills, have all created, sometimes just the once, works that manage both to thrill and arrest the emotions in equal measure.
Lucie Whitehouse's debut, The House at Midnight, managed that elusive ruse a couple of years ago, so it was with trepidation that I began her follow-up. I needn't have worried. The Bed I Made is a carefully played puzzle which second-guesses the reader's suspicions to provide a novel of moodiness, tension and empathy. The House at Midnight took the timeworn country-house thriller and peopled it with the kind of amoral elite at the heart of Donna Tartt's The Secret History. The Bed I Made is its own beast, although it has plenty of the mounting anxiety that Hitchcock utilised when he narrowed his heavy lids on the potential terror in domestic and romantic milieus...'
Henry James: Letters to Isabella Stewart Gardner, ed Rosella Mamoli Zorzi
PUSHKIN PRESS £12
'Such gossipy, effusive letters as these from Henry James to the wealthy American art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner, full of apologies for broken appointments (usually by James, on account of double-booking), let us see just why James was such a sought-after dinner-party guest: he knew everybody, he was indiscreet but never vulgar or crude, he knew when to strike an intimate tone and when to keep his distance, and he was always full of feeling ('Was there ever anything so tragical - so melting? But I can't write of it or talk of it...')'
Britain Since 1918: The Strange Career of British Democracy, By David Marquand
PHOENIX £14.99 (480PP) £13.49 (FREE P&P) FROM THE INDEPENDENT BOOKSHOP: 08430 600 030
' In this rich, articulate book, the rickety trajectory of UK politics over the last century - with a succession of weird individuals at the helm - is deftly related by a historian with insider knowledge.
Though it takes a little while to get underway, Marquand's insightful narrative describes the tenacious recurrence of political traits down the decades. Harold Macmillan was a 'Whig imperialist to his fingertips' and this tradition is continued (in modified form) by David Cameron, who has 'developed an emollient rhetoric of inclusion, harmony and evolutionary gradualism'. In the case of Margaret Thatcher ('a revolutionary, albeit of a highly unusual kind'), we learn that 'her Tory nationalism ran alongside a... largely unrecognised streak of democratic republicanism.' Marquand regards Blair as the Scarlet Pimpernel of British politics: 'His protean indeterminacy baffled the Conservatives as much as it baffled colleagues.''
Nothing But The Truth, By Anna Politkovskaya trans Arch Tait
HARVILL SECKER £18.99 (462PP) £17.09 (FREE P&P) FROM THE INDEPENDENT BOOKSHOP: 08430 600 030
'Anna Politkovskaya was gunned down in the stairwell of her Moscow flat on 7 October 2006. Her murder shocked, but did not entirely surprise, those who had followed her reporting and recent developments in Russia. It called forth a multitude of tributes from around the world in the spirit of the epigraph to this volume, which describes her as the 'honour and conscience of Russia'. It also prompted one of the most notoriously ill-judged comments ever uttered by President Vladimir Putin. She was, he said, a full three days after her death, someone whose influence on political life in Russia was 'minimal'...'
Waking Up In Toytown, By John Burnside
JONATHAN CAPE £15.99 (262PP) £14.39 (FREE P&P) FROM THE INDEPENDENT BOOKSHOP: 08430 600 030
'Every addict's story features cyclical repetitions until that eureka moment, which may or may not arrive, when the pattern is finally broken. The territory of Waking Up In Toytown is no exception. The poet and novelist John Burnside's second volume of autobiography recounts the usual depressing pattern of hopeful attempt and spectacular relapse. Yet this is far from a depressing or 'worthy' read. Burnside is a genuinely transformative writer, in whose hands what could be unpromisingly formless acquires real light and shade. In place of the 'and then... and then' of misery memoir, he has produced an acute, beautifully written, study of the self in process...'
Bury Place Papers, By Frank Kermode
'This collection of 'Essays from the London Review of Books, 1979-2007' not only demonstrates Frank Kermode's dexterity and range; it also shows a sense of humour I hadn't picked up on before. In his 1986 review of three weighty Hemingway biographies, for instance, two of which focused on Hemingway's early years and his first marriage to Hadley Richardson, he comments, with some feeling, on the amount of detail included: 'Although it may seem a little ungracious to say so, for she was an interesting woman, you may feel some regret that a thousand letters from Hadley to Ernest have survived.' Kermode is nothing if not diligent: if he had to read every word of those letters, one senses that he would do so...'
Enrich your mind with a selection of the latest hardback and paperback books.
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