BOOKS / In brief

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The Independent Culture
Disappearance by David Dabydeen, Secker pounds 7.99. At school in Guyana, the narrator was told 'an engineer straightens out whatever is lopsided'. Now a grown-up engineer himself, he has been sent to prevent the English village of Dunsmere crumbling into the sea. But as he shores up the cliff, this prying foreigner (a nameless prig) succeeds only in undermining those who live on the edge: the doting Mrs Rutherford, whose absent husband had a taste for pubescent African flesh; Christie, the cursing Irish navvy; Curtis, the recluse. The best bits of this well-mannered clash of cultures are those set in Guyana. The English sections are stilted, ploddingly elaborating the novel's epigraphs from Wilson Harris, V S Naipaul, T S Eliot, Jacques Derrida and Margaret Thatcher and telling us what we already know, that Empire was a Bad Thing. Mark Sanderson

The Ice Factory by Russell Lucas, Heinemann pounds 14.99. Romp through the lives of a wealthy family in Bombay at the twilight of the Raj: funny, inventive and very clear about the economics of sex. In spite of its apparent good humour, though, the book leaves a bitter taste: when characters inspire affection, as these do, it's upsetting to find them so summarily dispatched by the author. Anita Mason

Telling Stories by Valerie Windsor, Sinclair-Stevenson pounds 4.99. In a Paris cafe, an Englishwoman's tether with her droning husband finally snaps: she slips out the back and just keeps walking. Margaret amazes herself further by hitching south, becoming involved in a serious car crash and, upon revival, being mistaken for the dead driver, the returning British member of a moneyed French farming family with chateau. This seems as convincing to Margaret (now generally agreed to be Marie-Christine) as the truth, that she is an unhappily married secretary from Stoke-on- Trent. Part psychological thriller, part investigation of escapism, part sheer enthusiam for doing as the title says. Maggie Traugott