Books: Paperbacks

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THOUGH GORGEOUS in appearance, this tempting tome on "the love of food and the food of love" is a limp disappointment. Like many novelists, Allende labours under the delusion that everything about herself is of surpassing interest. At the start, we're treated to gushing tributes to her mother, her collaborator and even her agent. But most of this self- regarding work is devoted to Allende. She tells us more then we want to know about her sex life: "I like a raw egg served on my lover's navel, with chopped onion, pepper, salt, lemon and a drop of Tabasco."

Though she includes long lists of supposed aphrodisiacs, Allende's comments are rarely informative. The entry on oysters ("the queens of aphrodisiac cuisine") is taken up with a long digression on Napoleon's sister, who was fed these bivalves by her black lover for breakfast. On kirsch, she is plain wrong. She describes it as "much in vogue for lending a bouquet to champagne or white wine... the aphrodisiac power lies primarily... in the rosy colour it gives the cocktail." Kirsch is a colourless fruit brandy. I suspect that Allende is mistaking it with kir.

Her notion of aphrodisiacs is so broad that virtually every foodstuff turns out to be arousing. She even recommends bean soup, though for most people its after-effects do not encourage sexual indulgence. Though the book concludes with 100 pages of recipes, not one includes oysters. This could be because Allende insists "oysters are hell to open" (they're not). In spite of the expensive illustrations, there is neither a contents page nor an index. In short, the whole book is a turn-off. Anyone interested in the arousing or perverse aspects of consumption would be far better off seeking The Decadent Cookbook by Medlar Lucan and Durian Gray (Dedalus, pounds 8.99). CH

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing

by Melissa Bank

Viking, pounds 9.99, 274pp

UNLIKE MOST of her colleagues, New York editorial assistant Jane Rosenal has a steady date. Archie Knox, editor, drunk and "great liver", may not be marriage material, but has a nice brownstone and bags of charm. Smart and warm-hearted, Bank's debut - an episodic narrative of interconnected stories - follows Jane as she downshifts her career, but grows into her love life. An engaging slice of Manhattan life in the Susan Minot/Amy Bloom mode.

The Artist's Widow

by Shena Mackay

Vintage, pounds 6.99, 169pp

AN OLD-fashioned comedy of manners, featuring some very contemporary characters, Mackay's new novel is set among the denizens of "sarf London". Revolving round the friends of Lyris Crane, widow of a painter, and her great-nephew, Nathan Pursey, a conceptual artist in pursuit of the Turner Prize, the novel pokes fun at the London art world and suburban yuppies. Laugh-out-loud jokes, and the kind of elegiac moments in back gardens for which Mackay is renowned.