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Deadpan humour in killer of a story

Andrew Donaldson | 2012-02-20 23:07:00.0
Andrew Donaldson

Short, sharp guidance and observations from a journalist with attitude. All books available from Exclusives

IF YOU READ ONE BOOK THIS WEEK

'The Sisters Brothers', by Patrick De Witt (Granta Books) R140

DE WITT'S revisionist Western drew mutterings about its suitability as a Man Booker nominee.

Recommendation enough, then. Deadpan humour at pulp pace, this dark and unsettling account of two bickering hired killers, Charlie and Eli Sisters, on their way to California to murder a man, is compelling stuff.

THE ISSUE

BECAUSE we here at Book Marks are cynical, our thoughts, prompted by two new books, turn with relief from heart-shaped balloons and restaurant promotions to Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII, later Duke of Windsor.

Like most books about Simpson, Anne Sebba's That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor (St Martin's Press) seems baffled by her powers of seduction and wonders if Simpson learnt any "clever tricks", as the New York Times put it, during her travels in the East; mention is made of a "Shanghai squeeze" and "the ability to make a matchstick feel like a cigar".

The title of Scotty Bowers' scandalous Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars (Grove Press) aptly describes its contents. But in addition to the actors and actresses he slept with and pimped for in the 1930s and 1940s, the bisexual Bowers, now 89, also "serviced" the Duke and the Duchess - or as he puts it: "I would send up a nice, young guy for Eddy and a pretty, dark-haired girl for Wally."

The marriage was a sham. Bowers suggests it was a plot by the British government to conceal the truth about Edward's sexual preferences, and Sebba's well-researched book appears to support the idea. "Few who knew them well," she writes, "described what they shared as love."

CRASH COURSE

MAO Zedong followed his Great Leap Forward - which resulted in the famine that killed, oh, maybe 30 million Chinese - with the Cultural Revolution, which saw millions of teenagers forced from their homes to work in the countryside.

Conditions were brutal, rations were tight - and yet Sasha Gong, a dissident factory worker now an accomplished chef living in the US, has fond memories of that era, particularly of how she and her comrades learned to cook.

Gong and her co-author, the historian Scott De Seligman, have now produced The Cultural Revolution Cookbook: Simple, Healthy Recipes from China's Countryside (Earnshaw Books). Given all that starving, you'd think it a bit, well, tasteless. Far from it. It's a runaway success, acclaimed by foodies and historians alike, who have praised it for its warmth, compassion and insight.

THE BOTTOM LINE

"HE just couldn't resist a girl with a little bit of Social Register in her background." - Once Upon a Secret: My Affair With President John F Kennedy and Its Aftermath, by Mimi Alford (Random House).

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