Books to pack

21st August 1998 at 01:00
When Daniel Farson (journalist, early television star and lifelong piss artist) starts his autobiographical narrative drunk and maudlin in an Istanbul hotel, the worry is that he'll pass out by page six, leaving us with 400-odd pages of snoring and flatulence.

But, of course, the best drunk is an edited drunk; cut out those relentless, rambling conversational loops, and a solid core of intriguing anecdotes, polished by years of saloon bar rehearsal, can shine through.

So it is with Farson's Never a Normal Man (HarperCollins Pounds 8.99), as we lurch through bohemian London of the 1950s and 1960s, drifting into fame in the early years of ITV, a talented, amiable but essentially sad figure shambling on and off the national stage and consorting with some of the good, the bad and the ugly (Francis Bacon, the Kray twins, Jeremy Thorpe, to name but four). Sadly, Farson died shortly after the book was published - defiantly drinking to the end.

D J Taylor's Trespass (Duck-worth Pounds 15.99) is another chronicle of post-war Britain but, being fiction, it offers a far truer picture. It charts the rise and fall of George Chell, a working-class boy who shakes off his roots and makes good on the coat-tails of his mysterious Uncle Ted, who has cashed in on the Thatcher econo-mic mirage. Taylor's acute observation of a vast range of social milieux is breathtaking - 1950s council-estate Norwich to 1980s city slickers, London bourgeois suburbia, seedy seaside hotel I Trespass is, quite simply, a masterpiece. Beautifully constructed and exquisitely written, it is a rich feast of tragi-comedy.

They say that Martin Amis has lost his way. That he will only write for big bucks, which he needs to pay his dentist bills. Well, read Night Train (Cape Pounds 10.99). It's a thriller he's written in American.

He tells the story through a female US homicide cop. As she investigates the "suicide" of a young woman, all kinds of stuff comes up. About life and the universe, and what are we all doing here anyway?

It's a short book, but it's a diamond.

Martin Amis lost? Well, I found him OK.

Long may his teeth rot.

Howard Hannah is deputy chief sub-editor on 'TES1'

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