BOOKS: PAPERBACKS

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The Independent Culture
! 'Texaco by Patrick Chamoiseau, trs Rose-Myriam Rejouis and Val Vinokurov, Granta pounds 6.99. If Derek Walcott says, "you have to read this book", then you'd better take it seriously. It won the Prix Goncourt, and earned him praise as the poet laureate of dispossessed Creoles. His translators have been sensitive to the hypnotic lilt of Creole as it dips and soars into an almost fetishistically elegant French. Marie-Sophie, at the centre of this multi-voiced narrative, is the ballast and store of the island's memories and fulfils the novel's quest for self-betterment and self-invention. He creates a mosaic of languages and a history of the ethnic melting-pot of his native Martinique, conjuring with the myths and folklore of his people to write their story. For them, he tells us, the word "city" does not denote an urban space, but an enterprise, "and that enterprise is living".

! 'The Hacienda: My Venezuelan years by Lisa St Aubin de Tern, Virago pounds 6.99. I've always found St A de T's writing somewhat fey and sentimental, but in this account of her seven-year sojourn in the Andes, she has shown her mettle. In prose that is pared down for clarity, with an occasional flourish of poetic introspection, St Aubin de Teran reveals a strength of character and ingenuity that few would possess in her situation. At the age of 17, naive and cripplingly shy, she was brought to her aristocratic husband's hacienda to be la Dona of its feudal society. He, a former bank robber on the run from Interpol, left her in a hovel on his neglected estate with two dogs and a vulture. She spoke no Spanish, but adversity helped shape her, and the peasants amongst whom she lived became integral to her personal and artistic development. Most of all, though, she has a talent for attracting extraordinary characters into her circle, and then plumbing their lives to fashion engaging, well-told stories.

! 'The Strange Case of Mrs Hudson's Cat: Or Sherlock Holmes Solves the Einstein Mysteries by Colin Bruce, Vintage pounds 7.99. If, like Dr Watson, you run scared at the sight of quantum mechanics and the laws of relativity, this book will help you overcome that fear. Colin Bruce has hired Conan Doyle's philospher/detective and his straight man to help solve the heinous crimes of the most malevolent nuclear physicists. Scientific mysteries (eg how could a diver die of heatstroke at the bottom of an icy sea?) are solved in bite-sized, easily digested crime-fiction formulae, with dialogue almost as witty as the original, and fiendishly clever denouements. Enjoy the stories, and you might even learn about quantum Zeno effect and decoherence.

! 'Woman With Three Aeroplanes by Lilian Faschinger, Review pounds 8.99. Sexual tension is Lilian Faschinger's favourite subject-matter. Her first novel published here, Magdalena the Sinner, was a European bestseller, and these stories continue her exploration of the off-beat and disturbing secret lives of Europe's middle classes. Only in their fantasies can her characters experience any kind of freedom (Faschinger blames her Austrian homeland - the birthplace of Freud and Hitler - for her obsession with unconscious impulses), and these fantasies erupt in the most unexpected places. Failed connections and ruptures in relationships are evoked in a delicately laconic tone, lives are destroyed in a second, but we only know it through a hint. In "Beautiful Things", Lechner is mowing the lawn when he sees the "hard, sad face" of his wife through a window, pages later he has left his home and family and is aimlessly shoplifting in a department store. The story ends as he drops a photograph of his children down the shop's spiral staircase "and watches after it". Faschinger is a disconcerting story-teller, but successful nevertheless.

! 'Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography by Gail Levin, California University pounds 14.95. Professor of Art History at the City University of New York, Levin has already completed the catalogue raisonne of Hopper's works and five books on his art. In this biography, she draws on the journals of his wife and favourite model, Josephine Nivison. Levin presents a balanced view of this pathologically introverted and abusive husband to show the psychosexual torment that was vented on his wife, and that imbued his art. There are lighter moments, such as visits to Manhattan, but the overall impression is of a pitiless hermit who could not tolerate any other artistic vision than his own. Levin has written the definitive account of the man behind the easel, and his fascinating wife. And it is generous, in its critical distance and breadth of research, of a, possibly, undeserving subject.

Charles Alston (The Family, 1955 above) is one of many black artists discussed by Sharon F Patton in African-American Art (Oxford pounds 8.99). Spanning the past three centuries, sections are thematically organised, examining the society - enslaved and free - in which these decorative, applied and fine arts developed

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