A round-up of this week's paperbacks
Complete Stories By Flannery O’ConnorFaber, £12.99
Flannery O’Connor is the pre-eminent writer of the American South. She is often cited alongside William Faulkner and Eudora Welty as one of the foremost purveyors of the Southern Gothic style, in which stories follow absurd and often unbelievable events allowing writers to then explore issues of race, regionalism, and Christian theology. O’Connor, who lived a reclusive life and suffered from lupus, published her first story at just 21. This comprehensive volume includes Greenleaf,selected by John Updike as one of the Best American Short Stories of the Century, and the widely anthologised Good Country People, as well as 12 stories that have never appeared previously in book form. With her hard and clean prose style and grotesque characters, it’s clear why O’Connor has become such an important figure in American fiction. This collection is not only a wonderful opportunity for fans to read O’Connor’s early work, but a thorough introduction for those reading her for the first time.
All The Sad Young Literary MenBy Keith GessenRandom House, £7.99
Keith Gessen is the new face of hip-lit, appointed by some quarters of the US literary world as the successor to Dave Eggers – just as Eggers created McSweeney’s, Gessen co-founded a high-minded literary journal, N+1. His debut novel charts the post-college lives of three loosely connected men in a series of vignettes, as they grapple with the inevitable disappointments and ennui of early adulthood. They are, as the title suggests, with a nod to F Scott Fitzgerald, men with literary aspirations and intellectual pretensions, absorbed in the promise of their own greatness, yet besieged by narcissistic anxiety about their futures. This might work as a satire of the ambitious, self-obsessed Ivy League intellectual, were it not itself so smugly assured of its own intellectual superiority. Most problematically, Gessen names one of the characters after himself, but instead of creating a textual tension between fiction and reality, it merely suggests that Gessen displays the same solipsistic glibness he is ostensibly dissecting.
Doing Without Delia: Tales of Triumph and Disaster in a French KitchenBy Michael BoothVintage, £7.99
Originally called Sacre Cordon Bleuwhen previously released, Booth’s journey of culinary discovery opens with the travel writer and journalist doing a Savonarola, burning the books of his favourite television chefs – Jamie, Nigella, Rick and Delia, among others – on a gastronomic bonfire of their vanities before setting out to enrol in a cordon bleu cookery course, to learn proper French cuisine, classically. Along the way, he bemoans the rise of the celebrity cook and recipes that have never worked, tries to make sense of the eccentricities of the modern chef, learns what it means to be an Englishman in Paris and proclaims Teflon pans the work of the devil, among numerous witty and clever observations, before providing us with his manifesto on how foods of all denominations should be sourced, cooked and eaten. Well written, entertaining and funny, it’s a decent recipe for anyone tired of let’s-be-having-you Delia.
Ireland’s Misfortune: the Turbulent Life of Kitty O’SheaBy Elisabeth KehoeAtlantic Books, £12.99
This biography of “Kitty” (which is pejorative and should be Katherine or Katie) O’Shea, the fourth in 30 years, still does not really solve the mystery of that fateful ménage à trois(Parnell, William O’Shea and his wife, Katherine), the break-up of which blighted Irish political history for a generation and beyond. Nor does it explain who knew what about the Parnell-Mrs O’Shea affair and for how long. But it provides fascinating insight into the lady herself, who came from a line of independent women (and it was not easy to be one in Victorian times). She was cultured, intelligent, astute and a serious go-between for her lover with the prime minister, Gladstone. She was not the source of “Ireland’s misfortune”; the causes of that ran much deeper and further than one individual. Part romance, part historical narrative, the book probably falls between stools but it is still an engaging and worthwhile read.
Stephen King Goes to the MoviesBy Stephen KingHodder, £7.99
The title promises much, but in fact this is simply an arbitrary collection of five King stories that were adapted for films, with the barest of context or commentary. The Manglerand Children of the Corn,from King’s back-back-catalogue days toiling for men’s magazines, are efficient pulp nasties made into witless exploitation films. The brilliantly subtle and creepy haunted-hotel thriller 1408was filmed, to so-so effect, in 2007, while the novelette Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemptionbecame, in 1994, perhaps the most popular movie ever made from King’s oeuvre. That one alone takes up 128 pages, though the bulk of the book is indulgently given over to Low Men in Yellow Coats, a maudlin chunk from Hearts in Atlantis, filmed unsuccessfully in 2001. All five stories are worth re-reading, though fans who already have them in other editions will gain little new for their money.