BOOKS / Paperbacks

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Anything Once by Joan Wyndham, Flamingo pounds 5.99. Bohemia's favourite daughter writes with the wit and vivacity that characterise her exotic life. This third instalment of autobiography begins with the void she faces at the end of the war: 'All I had was the . . . dubious ability to drill a squad of women on the parade ground - not much bloody use to me now.' Instead, she vows to live 'gloriously, totally and dangerously free'. Whether betting on the greyhounds or weaving in and out of love affairs ('when he stripped back the sheets there were bed bugs so I ran away'), socialising with an array of 'brilliant people', from Arthur Koestler to Lucian Freud, or eloping, pregnant, with an 'irresistible' Russian, taking her first acid trip aged 50 or coping with chemotherapy, she is vulnerable, disarmingly frank, ironic, hilarious and charming.

Swallowing Geography by Deborah Levy, Vintage pounds 3.99. 'Are you pleased to open your eyes in the morning? Do you like what you see? If you hate it do you feel you have any power to change it for something else?' J K, 'an eerie child of Europe', wanders the world, across sexual, emotional, telephonic, national, linguistic, psychological and above all, philosophical boundaries, and wonders how her identity fits in. Levy articulates the yearning of discontent with the clarity and economy of an original thinker, in a flowing prose full of comic surprises and laced with descriptive craft.

Coming Out Of The Blue by Marc E Burke, Cassell pounds 11.99. In 1989, Roger Graef's Talking Blues gave us the personal testimonies of policemen and women - the human face behind the uniformed uniformity. This collection develops the theme one stage further: gay, lesbian and bisexual officers speak out for the first time, giving rare insights into two of society's most controversial groups. 'What we've got is a building-site culture - anti-intellectual, anti- compassionate, anti-tolerance, anti-reason, anti-change, and very, very worrying' (33-year- old YACS PC, 14 years' service). This timely, clearly presented study, would have been truly 'ground-breaking' if the interviewees had come out; sadly, they remain anonymous.

The Strange Case of Mademoiselle P by Brian O'Doherty, Vintage pounds 5.99. O'Doherty's first novel transports us to the Vienna of the Hapsburg Empire, where a doctor has been given the task of restoring the sight of the blind, 18-year-old Empress. His methods are unorthodox; massaging the body (with his wife present to avoid gossip), using his knowledge of magnetic fields and life forces. The doctor's obsession with the girl and his treatment result in a miraculous improvement in her condition . . . or is it? Sensual and intriguing storytelling.

Listen to the Voice by Iain Crichton Smith, Canongate pounds 5.99. These sensitive stories focus on the ambiguities of the inner voice, whose promptings can lead to self-discovery or repression and madness. Each juxtaposes the minutiae of everyday life with moments of searing emotion. A woman visits her dying father who attacks her way of life: 'You don't know what duty is . . . you live on romance and pap. I've seen you reading Woman's Own . . . your generation is pap and wind. You owe allegiance to nothing . . . What do you do?' She finds momentary solace, on leaving the hospital, at the sight of a man polishing his Mini adoringly.

Publishing Now: A Definitive Assessment by People in the Book Trade ed Peter Owen, Peter Owen pounds 12.95. Titles like 'The Death of the Hardback?' make this compilation of 22 pieces by publishing poobahs sound cheerful enough, but with the exception of Lennie Goodings's stout-hearted account of Virago's early days it is strictly for insiders. And very self-congratulatory, too: there isn't a whisper of criticism, or even much examination, of standards or procedures. It could be useful, though, as a total immersion course in publishing practice.

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