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Paperback Pickings

Somebody must find John

Who Killed Zeb-edee' (Hesperus, £ 5.99) by Wilkie Collins brings together two supremely clever and sensationalist stories from the inventor of English detective fiction. The title story and “John Jago’s Ghost” were both published in Victorian periodicals in the 1870s and 80s. Like his friend and collaborator, Charles Dickens, Collins was an inveterate experimenter with notions of realism in his fiction, using contemporary reports of actual crimes and legal proceedings to create fictional realms which presented a richly imagined exploration of Victorian underworlds. “Zebedee” is the deathbed confession of a Catholic London policeman, written down by his confessor. In a note to “John Jago’s Ghost”, Collins points out to his “incredulous readers” that “all the ‘improbable events’ in the story are matters of fact, taken from the printed narrative. Anything which ‘looks like the truth’ is, in nine cases out of ten, the invention of the author”. Collins was an unorthodox Victorian, maintaining two families while remaining unmarried, and taking to opium later in life. His first novel was set in ancient Tahiti, and throughout his career, he remained interested in doppelgangers, somnambulism, bigamy and a range of sinister and sensational pathologies.

slumming india: a chronicle of slums and their saviours (Penguin, Rs 200) by Gita Dewan Verma would have been an important book about Indian urban development had the reader been spared cutting through immense amounts of cleverness in order to get to its serious kernel. Also, most of the end-note references are to news reports, which makes one want to question the writer’s actual experience of slums. The clever jocularities of Kashyap Mankodi’s personal relations with the writer are more the stuff of telephone conversations than of a foreword to a book which wishes, one hopes, to be taken seriously.

arthur schopenhauer (Rupa, Rs 150) by Thomas Mann is an appalling edition of a masterly essay. The back-cover tells us that Mann became an US citizen in 1994, and the actual text of the monograph is full of printing mistakes. There is no bibliographical information provided regarding Mann’s piece. But it is good to be able to read an account of a brilliant and difficult philosopher by a great modern master — “I AM German literature”, Mann is reported to have declared once. Schopenhauer influenced such diverse minds as Wagner, Nietzsche and Hardy, in the way they understood the relations between the phenomenal world, history, the human will and art, especially music.


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