An actor's life in literature

BOOK OF THE WEEK

Chapman's Odyssey

Paul Bailey

****

Veteran wordsmith Paul Bailey makes a welcome return to the world of fiction with his first novel since 2003's Uncle Rudolf, and revisits familiar themes from his lauded canon.

Chapman's Odyssey follows the unravelling of the life of actor turned author Harry Chapman. While undergoing observation and facing operations, Harry delights hospital staff from his ward bed with poetry recitals while keeping a writerly ear on the dramas developing around him.

As he slips in and out of consciousness, helped by his painkillers, he is visited by ghosts of his past – particularly his acid-tongued mother – and by ghosts of literary history, who are and have always been as real to him as anyone.

Insightful, poignant, humorous and surreal, this is a beautifully crafted novel by the Booker-shortlisted author, which demonstrates a rich appreciation of literature, a Dickensian flair for characterisation and uses a poetic economy of language.

Bloomsbury, hardback 16.99

The Whisperer

Donato Carrisi

*

Abacus, paperback 7.99. Available January 20.

A bestseller in the author's native Italy, this crime thriller opens with the gruesome discovery of six arms buried in a field, but no sign of the rest of the bodies.

Soon the hunt is on for a suspected serial killer and that is where everything falls apart in this book by television screenwriter Carrisi.

The plot, despite some genuinely creepy moments, manages to combine ludicrous twists – a psychic crime-fighting nun among the best – with dull dialogue and too many one-dimensional cliched characters.

Maybe something has been lost in translation, but it reads as a spoof of all those serial killer books written to cash-in on the success of The Silence Of The Lambs.

It also suffers from its anonymous setting – not quite Europe, not quite America – which strips out any emotional connection the reader might have.

What makes it worse is that the trace of a genuinely good idea sits at the heart of the book, but it is done to death by the time you wade through almost 400 pages to the end.

Agent 21

Chris Ryan

***

Chris Ryan made his name as 'The One That Got Away', the only member of the Bravo Two Zero SAS troop to evade capture and the star of his own non-fiction account of the Gulf War.

A prolific author who draws on years of knowledge gained in the special forces, Ryan has also turned his hand to writing action thrillers for a younger audience.

In Agent 21, Ryan introduces Zak Darke, a teenager thrust into an alien world of espionage after the death of his parents.

Ryan draws on the same knowledge which made his series of SAS-themed books such a success and is set to follow up his previous popularity among both adult and younger readers with the Agent 21 series.

Darke is a new kind of hero, world-savvy with the skills needed to be a spy – don't be surprised if he eventually makes a seamless transition to the small screen or even Hollywood.

Red Fox, paperback 5.99

An indepth look at India

NON-FICTION

India: A Portrait

Patrick French

****

Since gaining independence in 1947, India has changed beyond recognition.

Having already provided an account of the country's road to partition in his acclaimed bestseller Liberty Or Death, Patrick French now takes the opportunity to examine the social, political and economical developments within India in the decades since and the factors that have led to its ongoing evolution.

The depth of research undertaken by the author is vast and this allows him to present a fascinating insight into his subject matter.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru – India's first prime minister – are among the highly influential figures to be placed under French's microscope, while a variety of landmark events, such as the forming of the nation's constitution, are also explored in great detail.

As a result, India: A Portrait is a compelling analysis of one of the world's most diverse and intriguing lands.

Allen Lane, hardback 25

When I Am Playing With My Cat, How Do I Know She Is Not Playing With Me? Montaigne And Being In Touch With Life

Saul Frampton

**

Being a French Renaissance nobleman, Montaigne wrote his immortal essays mainly for his own satisfaction – one of the many reasons they still feel so approachable today, and that generations of readers have found the familiarity of his described experiences startling.

Saul Frampton, on the other hand, is a modern academic. His book often lapses into the sort of theory jargon designed to make its users feel terribly clever: "The annulling of people's empathetic, proxemic awareness is effected by the ritual mutilation of the other", that sort of thing.

Sarah Bakewell's study of Montaigne, How To Live, is out in paperback, and is at once more accessible, more entertaining and more informative – in other words, more Montaigne – than this.

But Montaigne was a collector of human foibles, so knowing some people will nonetheless spend twice as much on Frampton's effort would doubtless have amused him no end.

Faber and Faber, hardback 16.99

You Need This Book To Get What You Want

Mark Palmer and Scott Solder

****

This book bills itself as the guide to getting the job you want, the pay rise you deserve and the relationship you crave. It's all about using your powers of persuasion to influence people in order to achieve your goal, according to the life coaches.

To get what you want you need to make sure that important people are seeing things the same way you do, and there are a range of techniques to make sure this happens.

Everyone has different sets of principles or values and you may not be getting what you want by assuming that other people's 'rulebooks' are the same as yours. Peppered with funny anecdotes and 'do this now' tests, the book is logical, interesting and readable.

Authors Palmer and Solder – experts in the field of interpersonal dynamics – also fill you in on how to get served at a packed bar.

Apparently you need to stick with a barman and match his mood like a method actor: I think I'll try it tonight.

Simon and Schuster, paperback 12.99

EP 22/1/11

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Enid Blyton grown ups spin off gets new titles