Book reviews: While the Women Are Sleeping | Talking to the Enemy | The Second Book of General Ignorance

William Leith casts his eye over some of this week’s new paperback releases...

While the Women Are Sleeping, by Javier Marias, Vintage, 144pp, £8.99 ***

Javier Marias writes stories that are playful and macabre – he’s a sort of mid-point between Borges and Roald Dahl. In the title tale, a couple, on holiday in Minorca spend their days gawping at another couple, a fat man and his beautiful girlfriend. The fat man spends his whole time filming the woman’s perfect, near-naked body. Later, he explains his reason for doing so; it’s chilling and sick. In another story, a man tells us about the only time his wife satisfied him sexually; it coincided with a time he was under pressure to disinter, then cremate, his father.

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Talking to the Enemy, by Scott Atran, Penguin, 576pp, £12.99 ****

Why do suicide bombers strap on explosives, walk into a crowded area and annihilate themselves and all around? Anthropologist Scott Atran has spent years trying to find out. He’s a good writer, too. He goes around the world, talking to terrorists. It’s gripping, humane, brilliantly insightful. Why do they do it? Not out of hatred, but because of intense, twisted groupthink. They do it for their mates.

The Second Book of General Ignorance, by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson, Faber, 368pp, £8.99 ****

This is derived from the BBC programme QI, in which Stephen Fry talks charmingly about all manner of stuff. No, house dust is not all human skin. It’s mostly other stuff. No, a snake does not dislocate its jaw when it eats its prey. It stretches it. Vertigo is not the correct name for the fear of heights. The correct name is acrophobia. Molotov didn’t invent the Molotov cocktail. His Finnish enemies did. And Attilla the Hun died of a really bad nosebleed. Who knew?