Books: PAPERBACKS

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Pig Tales by Marie Darrieussecq, trs Linda Coverdale, Faber pounds 6.99. When this gracefully written, erotic parable was first published in France, Le Monde hailed its author as a literary sensation, comparing her to Ovid, Kafka and La Fontaine. Certainly, her story of the metamorphosis of her heroine from flushed, buxom masseuse to plump and rosy sow is strong and convincing, and suggestive detail and the context - pre-millennial Paris rife with political and personal corruption - recreates the sinister world of bureaucrats gone power-mad. Her flair for magic realism harks back to the allegorical fables of her literary forebears. But after you've glutted on the bestiality, masochism and physical detritus in which her heroine wallows, this story of humankind's moral degradation, told purely in sexual terms, starts to tail off. Nevertheless, the heady allure of her writing (her translator skilfully delivers its delicate punch) is such that her next novel is definitely worth waiting for, and she shouldn't need any gimmicks this time.

A Little Knowledge: What Archimedes Really Meant and 80 Other Key Ideas Explained by Michael Macrone, Ebury pounds 5.99. Original sin; the Prime Mover; "I think, therefore I am"; cybernetics; "-isms, -ologies, and other alarming developments" are made accessible to the lay reader in this handy guide to philosophical thought from the Greeks onwards. Macrone covers everything you always wished you had a handle on: ontological proofs, Hume's fork, fuzzy logic and deficit spending. He is concise and humorous, but he is no fool, and resists the temptation to trivialise the ideas he attempts to explain. Moreover, he never suggests that there are any easy answers to questions like: "What is a quantum and where does it leap?" He merely provides a foundation that enables the reader to find out more, and formulate their own mind-boggling questions.

The Napoleon of Crime: The Life and Times of Adam Worth, the Real Moriarty by Ben Macintyre, Flamingo pounds 7.99. "He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organiser of half that is evil and nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker." Adam Worth was the greatest master-criminal of the Victorian era whose reputation inspired Arthur Conan Doyle, and whose audacious life of crime has finally been uncovered by journalist Ben MacIntyre. Worth started his career when he deserted from the American Civil War by forging his own death certificate. He then rented a shop in Boston, the windows of which he filled with tonic bottles so that no one could see inside. That left him free to dig a hole in the wall of the bank next door. He made off with nearly pounds l million. A diamond heist, a forgery ring, and the theft of the most expensive portrait in the world - Gainsborough's Duchess of Devonshire - can also be added to his CV. Macintyre tells his extraordinary story with unconcealed, infectious glee; and his exhaustive research creates a detailed picture of this rogue's interior life as well as his social milieu.

Wonderful Woman by the Water by Monika Fagerholm, trs Joan Tate, Harvill pounds 6.99. The Sixties happened in Finland too, and here's the novel to prove it. Fay Weldon said it was "brilliant", and new novelist Fagerholm won Finland's biggest literary prize with it. She starts in 1962, and places her cast of swinging Finns in their holiday villas by the seaside over a series of summer holidays. While their children scamper in the forest, Bella and Rosa don daring bikinis, drink rainbow cocktails, talk of Tupperware and liberation, and scandalise the neighbours. Fagerholm's coolly understated prose delivers a series of tableaux that perfectly capture the gradual awakening of the women and their children to the alternatives that life holds. Her use of period detail is deceptively artless, and she breezily strips away the surface glamour of the Nordic middle classes to suggest the hollowness of their self-delusion.

Duchamp: A Biography by Calvin Tomkins, Pimlico pounds 15. Many specialist books have been written about Marcel Duchamp, the "father of post modernism", but New Yorker columnist Calvin Tomkins has delivered the first full-length biography of "the most elusive, the most deceptive" artist of his generation, as Andre Breton called him. Duchamp's influence as a conceptual artist on Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and the like is indisputable, even if Picasso, when told of Duchamp's death, exclaimed, simply: "He was wrong." There is no doubting the controversy surrounding the man's work, and Tomkins lightly sifts through the evidence to give a comprehensive, critical account of its worth. He explores Duchamp's effect on the contemporary cultural scene; his bizarre sense of humour, his extravagant love affairs and friendships with leading lights like Apollinaire, Man Ray and Dali. Tomkins, who befriended his subject in the Sixties, remains objective throughout, believing that Duchamp should be approached with a "light heart" rather than the earnestness employed by other Duchampologists. As a result, he gets right to the heart of this singular artist's whimsical charm.

Ancient Mosaics by Roger Ling (British Museum pounds 12.99) traces the evolution of this luxurious decorative art from the Hellenistic to early Christian era. The mosaic panel created in the apse of San Vitale in Ravenna c. AD 547 (above), shows Empress Theodora symbolically bearing gifts to the basilica

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