BOOKS SHELF LIFE

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The Independent Culture
2 Darkening Echoes by Carol Smith (Little, Brown £15.99). Five women with seemingly nothing in common meet in an NHS gynaecological ward and keep in touch, combining and recombining in a series of chain reactions as rivalries and friendships grow. By contrivance, some of them are linked already: plump caterer Beth is having an affair with the husband of socialite Vivienne, whose vet's receptionist, Catherine, is also one of the five, and New Yorker Georgy is in love with Beth's ex-husband. Other, darker connections are revealed as the story progresses. Smith's dbut is a rattling thriller crossed with a feminist saga as the women discover female solidarity and rout their rotten menfolk. But sisterhood has its drawbacks: one member of the quintet is barking mad and murderous. It's not too difficult to guess who it is towards the end, given that one character is so obviously the author's alter ego, but the story is well played out against an evocative, rainy London background and Smith is adept at planting sneaky, oblique clues.

2 Hippie Hippie Shake by Richard Neville (Bloomsbury £18.99). Since we've all been told time and again that if you can remember the Sixties, you weren't really there, would-be chroniclers of the age, even those with credentials as impeccable as Neville's, have a bit of a problem. It would be terribly uncool to have a clear idea of what was happening; on the other hand, the sort of fillers Neville resorts to here - "The hippie scene took a walk on the wild side" or "The air was pungent with a feeling of belonging" - only emphasise the quantity of sheer vacuous rubbish produced by that famous decade. Neville's book is subtitled "the Dreams, the Trips, the Trials, the Love-ins, the Screw-ups ... the Sixties", which almost seems to be protesting too much. It documents the sexual revolution (and the ins and outs of his enthusiastic personal contribution to it) alongside the story of Oz. The "dirty little rag with filth in it" he created started life, as he did, in Sydney; the obscenity trials which obligingly followed ensured his badboy reputation. When Neville moved to London, he decided the old country was in need of the Oz treatment. It's all one long party, with a cast of the ultra-famous, or at least the very strange. The "Mick said this" and "Yoko did that" can get a bit tiresome, and the author's self-obsession is sometimes breath-taking, but much fun is to be had. The vignettes are the best: of Germaine Greer as smart groupie; of Neville's first encounter with Richard Ingrams, who said that anyone who smoked pot should be shot, but left them with a crisp and relevant piece of advice: "Take the mickey out of your betters."

2 Knightsbridge Woman by Maria Perry (Deutsch £8.99). Nancy Cunard adorns the cover of this stylish volume blending historical anecdote and modern urban lore. Whether it's information on the original KW (shopaholic Mary II, who had a standing order for 24 pairs of gloves a month), parking, nannies, or a disquisition on what, precisely, constitutes Knightsbridge (a surprisingly complex question), Perry delivers with style. A meditation on the difficulties of painting one's kitchen the correct shade of terracotta develops into a history of pearl-wearing featuring Charles II's mistress Louise de Keroualle (resident of Kensington House and therefore a prime KW). Society hostess Lady Blessington of Kensington Gore (from gara, Anglo- Saxon for unploughed land) had a mynah bird which shouted "Up Guards and at 'em", delighting the Duke of Wellington. And Harrods came to a special arrangement with the GPO in 1921 to change their address to Knightsbridge, ignoring the fact that they are really in Brompton Road. An ideal gift for Knightsbridge Women and those who wannabe.

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