Books: Paperbacks

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The Independent Culture

by Gabriel Josipovici, Carcanet, pounds 9.95, 152pp

Told exclusively in dialogue, critic Josipovici's latest exercise in minimal fiction is a good deal warmer and funnier than his avant-garde credentials might suggest. Yes, figures such as Beckett do lurk in the background, but there's more than a touch of Mike Leigh in these scenes from the tangled family life of a London Jewish dynasty. Josipovici's perfect command of voice builds up a rounded picture of every figure. Less is more, indeed.

Easy Peasy

by Lesley Glaister,

Bloomsbury, pounds 6.99, 245pp

Soaking in her lime-scented bath, Griselda Dawkins doesn't know whether to be more upset by the news of her father's suicide, or the discovery that her lover (a flame-haired historian by the name of Foxy) is sleeping with another woman.

Featuring a storyline that might have been used by many female novelists - a young woman coming to terms with her father's suicide, and memories of a weird childhood in the provinces - Glaister's version of events unfolds into something altogether more satisfying. Unlike her feelings for faithless Foxy, Griselda's feelings for her father are confused. A bad-tempered man who never recovered from his years as a Japanese POW, he spent long hours closeted in the lav. But what she remembers most is his intense friendship with the little boy next door, "Puddle-duck". This gormless 10-year-old hovered over her childhood like an excuse for bad luck.

That "Pud" played a significant role in Griselda's history is clear, though only at her dad's funeral do missing parts fall into place. In this novel of guilt and redemption, Glaister digests childhood's stickier moments without a hiccup. For a writer of her calibre, it's easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Getting Back Brahms

by Mavis Cheek,

Faber, pounds 6.99, 256pp

If Mavis Cheek hasn't clicked with you before, this novel probably will. Diana, a 30-something Putney-ite, is trying to resurface after the end of a long relationship by "practising" to be a lesbian. To her rescue comes a romantic novelist and a neat-bottomed Yank, and their hare-brained scheme to set up a writing academy. Cheek's greatest achievement is to give life to an engaging 30-something who isn't in the remotest bit like Bridget Jones.

Duncan Grant

by Frances Spalding,

Pimlico, pounds 14, 570pp

"I'm sick to death of Bloomsbury or, rather, of hearing people talk about it," groaned Grant in 1951. The appetite of Bloomsbury devotees is insatiable, but this biography seems an excessively generous canvas. Grant was active virtually to the end of his 93 years, but his finest works were heavily influenced by Matisse. Spalding faultlessly illuminates his charming character.

Archaeology and


by Colin Renfrew,

Pimlico, pounds 12.50, 346pp

In this impressive treatise, the eminent archaeologist swaps trowl for tongue. Renfrew's far-reaching linguistic excavation pinpoints the birthplace of Indo-European languages to Anatolia, where the first European farmers settled 10,000 years ago. As wheat and barley dispersed, so did the lingo. Unsurprisingly, the Celts were active in spreading the chat.

The Black Rubber Dress

by Lauren Henderson, Arrow, pounds 5.99, 309pp

Full-time sculptress, part-time sleuth, Sam Jones usually prefers the company of fellow artistic types, but in the fourth of this smartly written series, our coke-fuelled heroine finds herself dating a banker with a pad in South Ken and a taste for navy BMWs. One of her mobiles slips from its moorings, squashing Sloane Boy's boss. Ladette humour at its best.

Monsieur Shoushana's Lemon Trees

by Patricia Duncker

Picador, pounds 5.99, 208pp

Set mostly in France, and among women of the sapphic tendency, these short stories from the author of Hallucinating Foucault are drenched in southern sunshine. The best in the collection include the story of a young male documentary maker found dead in a field of sunflowers (after interviewing an all-female household). Either enjoy the scenery, or the sexual politics.