J.-K. Huysmans

(Dedalus, £9.99)

Dealing with child murder, a Black Mass and graphic (for its time) sex, the 1891 novel Là-Bas was so scandalous in its day that it’s only now becoming available in an unexpurgated English translation. Translator Brendan King argues for it being “the cult novel of the 19th century”, the book that marked Huysmans’s break with Naturalism and his embrace of Catholicism, and it shows his central character, Durtal, taking time off from his biography of the bestial 15th-century murderer Gille de Rais to explore the dark side himself. Mourning a bygone era of spirituality and subjectivity in an age of scientific reason, Durtal is drawn to decadence and occultism as part of his journey to the light in a novel that is a philosophical enquiry into evil, a meditation on the state of literature at the tail-end of the 19th century and a profoundly committed spiritual statement, bristling with powerful imagery and shocking even now.


Simon Matthews

(Oldcastle, £16.99)

Reading Matthews’s account of how film and TV engaged with pop culture between 1975 and 1986, one can get the impression that the 1960s ended rather earlier in Britain than elsewhere. When the pioneering spirit of the counterculture stalled, the UK’s film industry wasted no time in marginalising the more daring dramatists and directors and devoting its resources to safe mainstream fodder, while the amount of original drama on TV was significantly reduced and pop-culture content, rather than reflecting the experience of youth, was repackaged for middle-aged audiences. Nevertheless, out of a morass of period dramas, seedy sex comedies and naff glamour, this absorbing, fact-filled book highlights numerous obscure but deserving British pictures alongside chapters on punk, Bowie and other dissenting voices who kept alive a spirit of adventure and transgression in a period that began with the grittiness of Slade in Flame and wrapped with the glossy, ill-conceived Absolute Beginners.


Clare Pooley

(Black Swan, £7.99)

Once a famous artist with a glittering social life, 79-year-old widower Julian Jessop now leads a drab and lonely existence. Depressed, he begins writing in a notebook in which he will tell nothing but the truth, leaving it in a café, where it is found by the owner, Monica, a former corporate lawyer who ditched her career to chase a settled domestic life. Reading it, she’s inspired to share her own truths in its pages and leave it lying around in the hope that someone else will, in turn, be similarly affected. That next person is Timothy Hazard Ford, an arrogant equities trader with a substance abuse problem who wants to be a better person. Overly sweet for some tastes, it’s an undemanding and unashamedly feelgood novel, but maybe the cosy charm of people breaking out of their isolation and making connections with others is what we need most at the moment.