BOOK REVIEW / In brief

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The Independent Culture
Stir-Fry by Emma Donoghue, Hamish Hamilton pounds 9.99. Student life in Dublin today has a curiously dated feel to English readers. Maria, newly arrived, is the product of a narrow convent education, and traditional family ties take on a misty blur as she stumbles through a succession of discoveries about the sexuality of her new friends. Trembling-on-the- brink-of-womanhood is an established genre; Donoghue gives it the lesbian twist, and Maria's roller-coasting self-esteem is well handled. Not quite as moving as it might be, because the ending is slightly unsatisfactory, but none the less this is a snappy, well-observed novel from a promising first-timer. Penelope Stokes

The Time: Night by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, trs Sally Laird, Virago pounds 9.99. Short-listed for the Russian Booker, this first British publication from Ludmilla Petrushevskaya is narrated by the weary and bitter Andrianovna - poet, mother, grandmother and daughter. It's less a novel, more a relentless outpouring of anger and despair, ricocheting between hunger, claustrophobia and rage at her continually impregnated daughter and indolent son. 'Love them,' remarks the near-broken Anna of her children, 'and they'll tear you to pieces' - though it is a measure of the work's power that it's never quite clear who's tearing whom. Julie Myerson

Gravity is Getting Me Down by Fred Plisner, Heinemann pounds 9.99. Thinly disguised as his fictional hero Alfred Klausner, the septuagenarian author takes us on an autobiographical tour of Europe. The story begins with his birth in Vienna, moves to Manchester and Berlin, and returns the teenage Freddi to Vienna in time for the Anschluss. He joins the flotsam of refugees drifting across Europe during the war, spends 10 years in Palestine/Israel, and eventually finds his home in England. Plisner's dense packing of history, politics and Jewish culture into an eccentric personal narrative is achieved with an engaging touch that never trivialises his sombre subject matter.