BOOKS / In Brief

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The Independent Culture
Catwalking by William Bedford, Macmillan, pounds 14.99. The author has nostalgically moved on from the 1950s of his coming-of-age novel All Shook Up (now in Picador, pounds 5.99) to the 1960s of a coming-of-baby novel set in the world of London fashion and advertising. Having plumped for a troubled female protagonist, Bedford takes on issues of rape, childhood abuse, the fear of giving birth, the salvation of work, and the love of a good man. The amateur psychology is a bit too obvious, and the whiff of sociology thesis hangs over the catwalk and art department scenes, the glimpses of drug culture and the statutory swinging. Why does the reader sense a tidy card index behind it all, bloodlessly detailing 'S' for Stones, 'Q' for Quant and 'M' for Mandrax?Maggie Traugott

Evasion by Francoise Sagan, trs Elfreda Powell, Severn House pounds 13.99. A group of society's most trivial ornaments are trying to flee the Germans in 1940: when their car is bombed they have to take refuge with a peasant family. The formidable Madame sets them to work to earn their food, the lusty son becomes the lover of the young society woman, and the ousted gigolo makes a new conquest: the village idiot. The visitors (still dressed in their Hermes and Balenciaga) almost learn to enjoy driving combine harvesters and feeding the pigs, but then the Vichy government signs an armistice with the Germans, and Madame sends them away. They drive cheerfully to a sticky end. This is the sort of thing to read if Hello] makes you feel vengeful: amusing, elegant (apart from the dreadful English rendition of the peasant dialect) and ultimately, like the characters, rather pointless. Leslie Wilson

A Tiler's Afternoon by Lars Gustafsson, trs Tom Geddes, Harvill pounds 7.99. An old tiler goes to a house in response to a telephone call: there is work there. He finds no one to give him instructions, but the job is clear enough. He starts, improvising where necessary. There are interruptions. His cousin comes to help, and hinders. As he works, the tiler thinks about his life: it doesn't seem to add up to much. Evening comes, nothing about the house has been explained, and he will not be paid. What is there to show for the day? Only the work. Gustafsson labours the point a little, but this beautifully conceived poetic allegory about an artist's life lingers in the mind. Anita Mason

In the Houses of the West by Christopher Burns, Hodder pounds 14.99. Absorbing novel set in Egypt, where Raymond Murchison and Clive Oxtaby are assisting with the excavation of Tutankahmun's tomb. Murchison is scientific, and resolutely objective. Oxtaby is a sort of mystic, or conjuror, or lunatic. Both are in love with Oxtaby's sister, Lucinda. There is a rumour of a papyrus Book of the Dead: all the Europeans, including Murchison and Oxtaby, are trying to get hold of it, while the locals deny its existence. The Egyptian scenes are vividly described; the archaeological detail, dry as it is, is exciting; the search for the papyrus grips your attention before it becomes obvious that it will end in disaster. A thought-provoking, many- layered, satisfying read. Leslie Wilson

Night Shall Overtake Us by Kate Saunders, Century pounds 9.99. Never mind that it's commercial, this is a rich, rollicking novel you don't put down easily (or, at 641 thumping pages, pick up easily either). It has got the lot: snobbery and sex, the Great War and peace, Vorticists and suffragettes, bravery, treachery and that old favourite, 'bad blood'. Saunders doesn't so much succumb to cliches as brandish them roguishly, mainly in the moments of passion - which are many and usually between inappropriate partners ('The second their lips fused it was as if they were struck by lightning'). She was thrusting in this direction in her last novel, Storm in the Citadel; now she has Jilly Cooper's endorsement emblazoned on the cover. Let those sneer who dare. Maggie Traugott

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