BOOKS / New novels in brief

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The Independent Culture
Mating by Norman Rush, Cape pounds 15.99. Heady first novel set in Botswana, narrated by a white American female anthropologist in pursuit of her white American mate. He has developed a revolutionary project in the middle of the Kalahari Desert to aid and empower destitute African women. Our intellectually heavyweight narrator stalks through the desert and gets her man in what must be one of the wordiest relationships to unfold on any continent. They perorate beguilingly late into the desert night (while the village women seem to be ululating), but little actually happens in nearly 500 pages. The text is peppered with Latin and some of the sex scenes read like steamy medical reports. 'I would have liked to touch his beautiful sternocleidomastoids,' she confesses. His which?

Winging It by Susan Schmidt, Serpent's Tail pounds 7.99. It's just as well Susan Schmidt keeps telling you which of her characters have lots of charm because otherwise you might miss it. Her three middle-aged expatriate Americans in London - one a nearly rehabilitated drug- user whose gay boyfriend has fled to Paris, one extra-large Jewish princess with rampant libido and one full-time worrier - look poised to deliver winning one-liners but they seldom do. They pounce on an Englishman called Jeremy in their local delicatessen and invite him to share their menage, basically because he's got great hair and buys classy groceries. Coincidence and schmaltz drive the action to Paris, while - contrary to the spirit of the title - the author fusses with her prose till it crash-lands.

Careless Talk by James Friel, Macmillan pounds 13.99. Convincing first-person narrative about the deceptions and delusions of Mabel, landlady of the Villa Judapah on the Isle of Wight. After a childhood spent with her wacky mother, she marries and moves to a guest house. When war breaks out, the island is overrun with British troops, and Mabel takes to cutting through barbed-wire fences as well as voicing much unpatriotic sentiment. Her neighbours suspect her of Fifth Column activities and, tickled by the idea, she pretends to be a spy. The results are predictable but (mildly) humorous.

Coincidence by Jane McLoughlin, Virago pounds 14.99. On an impulse to see the country of her ancestors, Kitty Lawrence flies into Dublin and reassumes her maiden name, O'Shea. Coincidentally, the IRA has planned to meet a contact called Kitty O'Shea off another American flight in order to collect a donation of dollars 1m from United States sympathisers. All sorts of thrilling and sanguinary shenanigans ensue. The cast, limned persuasively, includes an endearingly drunken poet and a bestial epitome of the men of violence. A perspicuously written, exciting story as well as a rational and frightening portrayal of sectarian insanity.

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