The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Paperback Pickings

Brooding over food and philosophy

fellow-townsmen (Hesperus, £ 2.95) by Thomas Hardy captures the ironical twists of fate in the lives of two old friends in the Wessex town of Port Bredy. The long tale — not quite a short novel — captures in its brief span the reflective, compassionate brooding tone that is unique to Hardy. As is usual in his most widely-read novels, the deeply philosophical point of view is perfectly assimilated into the turn of the events. The depiction of 19th century English provincial life loses nothing of its vitality and humour for being contained within the fast-moving seventy-odd pages.

The food of the gods (Rupa, Rs 150) by H.G. Wells plunges the late 19th-early 20th century reader into a world very different from Hardy’s — a world of science and fantasy, of humans with superhuman dreams. The dreams are given a hard brush with reality, however, when the two scientists, who invent a special food that will create a race of superhumans, find that they have forged a recipe for disaster. Wells connects the Romantic tradition of science fiction — Frankenstein’s Monster — to the Star Treks of the 20th century. His fantasies, narrated in a brisk, often drily humourous style, gained a wide and varied readership. There are many young readers of novels like The Time Machine, The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds even today.

War and peace in Islam (Delhi Policy Group, Rs 400) contains the proceedings of a seminar conducted under the aegis of the Comprehensive Security Dialogue Project. It not only brings together twelve papers by scholars, senior administrators, lawyers and activists such as Irfan Habib, Mushirul Hasan, Asghar Ali Engineer and A.G. Noorani, but also the discussions that follow each paper. Both the scholarship and research as well as the exchanges are of special value at the present time.

as it happened (Vintage, £ 4.55) by David Storey is a graceful, meticulous account of some of the most graceless, intransigent situations in life. Matthew Maddox, emeritus professor of the Drayburgh School of Fine Art drives himself — and is also partly driven by those who care — through the apparently inevitable steps of “rehabilitation”, after the remarriage of his wife, the departure of his children and his own failed attempt at suicide. The sombreness of Maddox’s belief that involuntary self-murder is a cultural and social malaise underlies the wittier moments and occasionally gives the sense of directions gone a little awry.

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