BOOK REVIEW / Paperbacks: The Blue Afternoon by William Boyd, Penguin pounds 4.99

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This novel recreates a corner of Manila in 1902 - the hospital corner, in fact, for its hero, Salvador Carriscant, is the most forward-looking surgeon in town. He operates in a clean, white coat, and washes his hands before, not after, rummaging around the insides of his patients: innovations to scandalise his more traditional, frock-coated colleagues. Even more of an outrage is Carriscant's affair with the wife of an American officer, whom he loves and loses in that mixture of tragedy and farce which is one of Boyd's trademarks. There is a long preamble, but once the story proper gets under way, the effect is spellbinding.