BOOK REVIEWS / Paperbacks, Fiction

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Happily Ever After by Jenny Diski, Penguin pounds 5.99. Bizarre and seductive novel about mad, sad people sharing a London house: dotty Daphne, drunk in the attic; landlord Liam, sunk in sexual fantasies; hopeless Sylvie, the ground- floor lodger with a difficult daughter, all weighed down by old griefs but never quite losing hope of a happy ending.

Bloody Margaret by Mark Lawson, Picador pounds 5.99. Two years on from Mrs T, the title novella of these three witty political fantasies already has the air of a period piece, but for those who have forgotten the SDP there are handy explanations ('at that time . . .'). Later editions may need a footnote telling us who exactly Bloody Margaret was.

I Cannot Get You Close Enough by Ellen Gilchrist, Faber pounds 6.99. Three crisply written linked novellas from the mistress of American Southern gothic, wonderfully illuminating about relationships between the generations. Plenty of high drama, but tempered by astute social comedy.

Mercy by Andrea Dworkin, Arrow pounds 5.99. Dworkin has always been a sensationalist, but there is a gulf between the angry polemicist of the feminist essays and the protagonist-victim of this novel, who is repeatedly raped, beaten, slashed and burned in a world where there are only two sorts of people - Jews and Nazis. The real tragedy is that so eloquent a campaigner against pornography has finally adopted the enemy's discourse.

The Book of Wishes and Complaints by Zina Rohan, Flamingo pounds 5.99. Ambitious debut novel that uses Hana - born in 1944, mother of a son by a man who fled to the West - to re-examine post-war Czechoslovakia. Occasionally clumsy, but with a fine comic instinct for the kind of domestic detail that tells us everything.

Blue River by Ethan Canin, Picador pounds 5.99. American first novel about the past catching up with the present. Narrator Edward, a doing-nicely, thirtysomething ophthalmologist in California, has not seen his no-hoper brother for years, but when Lawrence turns up out of the blue, the scene is set for some vivid reliving of the rivalry and tenderness of their Mississippi boyhood. Lyrical, gripping, eerie as Carson McCullers, though the promised revelations never quite materialise.

Victorian Ghost Stories ed Michael Cox & R A Gilbert, Oxford pounds 7.99. Gripping tales perfect for reading aloud. Away with Trivial Pursuit and get stuck into Dickens, R L Stevenson, Jerome K Jerome, Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Gaskell.