22 NOVEMBER 1997, Page 43

Rupert Christiansen

John Banville's ventriloquistic imperson- ation of a Bluntian art historian in The Untouchable (Picador, £15.99) is a tour de force. For the real thing, I then turned to the new Oxford History of Art, a superb piece of publishing which puts that dear old black Thames & Hudson 'World of Art' series out of the running: I have much enjoyed two of the series, both at the bar- gain price of £8.99: Graham Clarke's The Photograph and Evelyn Welch's Art and Society in Italy, 1350-1500.

Eland, that heroic and enlightened publisher which digs up intelligent books too long out of print, has reissued (in durable paperback format) the late Tony Parker's The People of Providence — a superb piece of oral history which original- ly appeared in 1983. Culled from interviews with the inhabitants of a South London housing estate, it is both comic and tragic, depressing and exhilarating, and ultimately a haunting tribute to cussed human resilience.