Books in brief

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The Independent Culture
Emerald City by Jennifer Egan, Picador pounds 13.99. This collection of stories from the winner of the 1991 Cosmopolitan fiction prize illustrates the pitfalls of reprinting magazine fiction: not just the recurring details (two couples who clasp each other from behind; a wife / daughter struck by her husband / father's good looks; two military history buffs), but the 'lifestyle' cast of millionaires, divorcees, and rich girls in exotic locations. Best opening comes from 'Sacred Heart', about a schoolgirl crush involving self-mutilation with a razor: 'In ninth grade I was a great admirer of Jesus Christ.' Jennifer Potter

Twilight Country by Knut Faldbakken, trs Joan Tate, Peter Owen pounds 14.99. A novel set in the future we're all afraid of: the city of Sweetwater, suffering from shortages, pollution and massive unemployment; a city dominated by the enormous rubbish dump at its edges; a city located nowhere, in anyone's country, yet convincingly realised - grey littered streets, rats, flies, the odd corpse, the dead water of the bay. Here Allan with his child-bride Lisa and his young son learn to live on what they find and with the people they find - a caricature of self-sufficiency and alternative ecology. 'Futuristic' novels are always about the present. But whereas Brave New World portrayed the horror of powerful technology, Faldbakken shows us technology's helplessness. It would all be intolerably depressing if it weren't for the people. It is their survival that makes it such a gripping read, their noble savagery, their relationships, their refusal to think of anything beyond the day. Leslie Wilson

Singular Pleasures by Harry Mathews, Dalkey Archive Press pounds 14.99. A tiny gem: 61 breathy depictions of masturbation which read like haikus tossed off by a mad mathematician. We learn how, where, sometimes why and usually to what effect in as little as two lines and never more than 21. Francesco Clemente's illustrations mercifully avoid literal interpretation. Sharp and very funny. Jennifer Potter