PAPERBACKS

 

This week's paperback release reviewed.

The Second Plane

Martin Amis

Vintage, £7.99

With this collection of essays and short fiction published since September 11th 2001, Martin Amis traces his responses to the “defining moment” when the second plane, “galvanised with malice”, accelerated into the World Trade Centre and we all realised that the first plane had not been an accidental aberration but a “worldflash of the coming future”. Frightening, informative and sharply written, these snapshots increase one’s admiration for Amis’s continued engagement with history, yet as he moves gradually from a recognition of the context of Islamism to a more hardline view, there is a sense that his rhetorical flair and imaginative fascination with nihilism have manoeuvred him into an outlook identical to that of Tony Blair, whom he interviews (somewhat uncritically) on tours of duty to the White House and Iraq. This brave, though sometimes unconvincing, effort to defend secular western rationalism against what he sees as uniquely backward-looking, death-fixated enemies nonetheless adds up to a fascinating summation of worldviews at war. Giles Newington

Flat Earth News

Nick Davies

Vintage , £8.99

Remember the Millennium Bug? Despite all the hysterical publicity, there was nothing to be worried about. Saddam’s arsenal of WMD? Nothing to worry about there either. But after reading this excoriating critique of modern journalism by veteran British journalist Nick Davies, you’ll realise that those stories reveal we have a lot to be worried about after all – these are just two of the most egregious examples of the widespread misinformation that the global media now disseminates, unchecked and seemingly unexamined. Davies points to the new realities of newsrooms, where “churnalism”, cutbacks and internet-adjusted deadlines have proved so damaging that most journalists “work in structures that positively prevent them from discovering the truth”. Between the meticulous research and insider anecdotes, there is an unrepentant idealism running through this book, an idealistic search for truth that needs defending. Davin O’Dwyer

Mother Leakey and the Bishop: A Ghost Story

Peter Marshall

Oxford UP, £12.99

This is an innovative work of historical fiction, which resurrects two figures from the annals of history and merges their shadowy, contested and apparently distinct stories. Marshall’s subjects are John Atherton, the first and only Anglican bishop to be hanged for sodomy in 1640, and “Mother Leakey”, his distant relative, whose haunting of the small English coastal town of Minehead after her death in 1636 entered the realms of local superstition. Through a thorough investigation of contemporary and historical representations of both stories, Marshall uncovers much about 16th-century views on sexuality, religion and the supernatural. More central to the book’s purpose, however, is his examination of two intimately linked processes: how stories are told, and how history is made. His book vindicates Marshall’s assertion that history is best practised as a creative craft. It is, above all, an engaging story, elegantly and humorously told. Eimear Nolan

The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead

Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert

Penguin, £9.99

Timothy Leary’s pseudo-academic journeys of drug-induced discovery are one of the key personifications of 1960s’ counter culture. This reissue of O’Leary and his colleagues’ version of the Tibetan Book of the Deadhas an excellent foreword by Daniel Pinchbeck that puts Leary’s books and research in context and exposes some crippling flaws in his arguments. That said, the book proper makes for fascinating if frequently ridiculous reading - despite writing a guidebook on how to lose the ego and free the mind, Leary seems to have suffered no lack of self-confidence and insists that instead of decades of meditation and self-examination, a few drops of LSD and this book is all you need to achieve enlightenment and put you on a par with Buddha. What could go wrong? Laurence Mackin

In Exile

Billy O’Callaghan

Mercier, €12.99

As a writer of short stories, Billy O’Callaghan has a track record that would make any aspiring author envious. Winner of three prestigious awards and shortlisted for four more, his first collection comes highly recommended – and does not disappoint. In Exile tells of the loss, isolation and alienation that are the by-products of modern Ireland’s now- faltering economic success. From the fishermen reduced to posing for tourists’ photographs, to the farmer forced to shoot a beloved dog out of economic necessity, to the man who changes his name from Peadar to Peter when he moves from the west to Dublin, O’Callaghan writes evocatively of a way of life that has become memory rather than reality. The author’s evident fascination with the symbolic resonance of the west permeates all his stories, and he demonstrates an affinity with people and place which is tender, but never trite, and which invariably rewards the reader with a surprising twist. Freya McClements