The Guardian

In brief

Peter Ackroyd

By Alexander Larman

The English Actor: From Medieval to Modern

Reaktion, £20, pp416

The biographer and historian Peter Ackroyd is justly celebrated for his enthralling writing. Alas, on the evidence of The English Actor, his previous flair has left him. Ackroyd takes a fascinating and potentially rich subject – the evolving role of the theatre actor in Britain from medieval times to the present day – and smothers it beneath windy generalisations and Wikipedia-level summaries of actors’ careers. There is a brilliant book to be written about this topic but this, unfortunately, is not it.

Cursed Bread Sophie Mackintosh

Hamish Hamilton, £16.99, pp192

Sophie Mackintosh’s remarkable third novel is loosely inspired by a still unexplained event in which the inhabitants of the French town of PontSaint-Esprit succumbed to a mass poisoning in 1951. This is the backdrop to a sensuous and thrillingly written account of the growing obsession that the frustrated baker’s wife Elodie comes to feel for the glamorous, mysterious Violet and her ambassador husband, who arrive in town and cause discord among the locals. Mackintosh’s evocation of desire is so tangible that you can smell the aroma of illicit sex.

The Restless Republic: Britain Without a Crown Anna Keay

William Collins, £9.99, pp496 (paperback)

Between 1649 and 1660, Great Britain was a republic. There have been countless books written about the leading players in this period, not least the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, but in this fascinating account of one of the most epochal moments in the country’s history, Anna Keay brings a time of quiet, uncertain and ultimately fruitless revolution to vivid life. It is hard to imagine a better examination of the Protectorate.

To order The English Actor for £17.60, Cursed Bread for £14.95 or The Restless Republic for £9.29 go to guardianbookshop. com or call 020-3176 3837