16 NOVEMBER 2002, Page 48

D. J . Taylor

Three biographies I particularly enjoyed were Ann Thwaite's subtly wrought Glimpses of the Wonderful: Philip Henry Gosse 1810-1878 (Faber, £25), Hilary Spurling's partial but intriguing The Girl from the Fiction Department: A Portrait of Sonia Orwell (Hamish Hamilton, £9.99) and Robert Fraser's vast anatomy The Chameleon Poet: A Life of George Barker (Cape, £25). Justin Cartwright's White Lightning (Sceptre, £16.99) was a dazzling addition to a collection of high-grade novels stretching back as far as Interior (1988).

Above all, though, I would recommend Anthony Hobson's scrupulous edition of Ronald Firbank's Letters to his Mother 1920-1924 (Maggs, £34.50). Firbank devotees have been crying out for Hobson to finish his labours on these highly spiced but oddly poignant fragments of Twenties esoterica for years. It was worth the wait, and the two Firbank biographers currently at work can press on with renewed zest.