Books: Some novels that missed out on the booker

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The Independent Culture
City of Gates by Janice Elliott, Hodder pounds 14.99.

The author's 23rd novel, set mainly in a Jerusalem continuously on the alert for Saddam's missiles, concerns the amorous relationships connected with Madame Muna's guest house at the Jaffa Gate. Daisy Herbert, an attractive redhead, travels there with the clumsy Thomas Curtis, a London bookshop-owner, but involves herself instead with a handsome tourist guide and an expatriate English vicar. Then, unbelievably, Daisy and Thomas begin to show their feelings for each other after being separately taken prisoner and thrown together in an earthquake- hit cave. The other relationships are laboriously intertwined against a backdrop of religious and political struggle - but the plot is fragmentary and painfully contrived. Tony Mooney

Memories of Rain by Sunetra Gupta, Orion pounds 13.99.

A first novel with distinct Modernist sensibilities, this is the story of a marriage between a young Indian woman, Moni, and a visiting English student, their subsequent move to London and, 10 years later, Moni's return to Calcutta after discovering her husband's infidelity. The narrative is constructed around the events of the final weekend before her secret departure, and a series of flashbacks to the time when the couple first met. Gupta's poetic and figurative language, springing abundantly from free association and allied to the continuous time-shifts, is reminiscent of Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse. Less an examination of the clash between incompatible cultures than of the waning of a naive romance, Memories of Rain avoids the lure of easy answers, and manages to hold sentimentality at bay. Graham Thompson

Nocturne by Lisa St Aubin de Teran, Hamish Hamilton pounds 14.99.

The stories of two characters, growing up at different times: Alessandro Mezzanotte, an Italian peasant who falls in love with a gypsy girl in a travelling fair; and Stefano Altini, the sensitive son of a strict magistrate, whose mother is driven into a strange somnolent decline by miscarriage and her husband's

hard-heartedness. The two men meet when Stefano, as a young soldier, is posted to care for the ageing veteran Alessandro, who has been blinded and maimed in the war. Mezzanotte's monologues to Stefano rehearse the details of his passion and solve the mystery of his mutilation. This could have been one of the great tales of enduring love - an Italian Les Enfants du Paradis. In fact, Mezzanotte's memories are ponderous: he is more likeable as the simple peasant boy metaphorically blinded by love than he is as a literally blind (and rather sophisticated) storyteller. Mezzanotte's history helps reconcile Stefano to his own sorrows, but it is hard to understand quite why. Nicolette Jones

The Fame Hotel by Terence Blacker, Bloomsbury pounds 14.99.

This whodunnit with a difference unmasks intrigue in high places after American ghost-writer Ollie Sincton is found stabbed to death in his London flat (tied to a bed stark naked, with a doughnut adorning his member). The crime is investigated, and the story narrated, by Detective Inspector Simon Potter - 'the modern police detective, a quiet intellectual, sardonic, a lover of Vivaldi with a slightly tragic private life'. Sincton has bequeathed a set of computer disks detailing his kinky conquests, and we follow the clues provided by these through Whitehall, Windsor and seedy Soho only to discover that vested interests have conspired to pervert the course of justice. An intriguing plot interwoven with satirical swipes at the literati, the Bill, the Civil Service, telly- culture, sexual perversion and the Royal Family. Peter Reading

Skating Round the Poppy by M S Power, Mainstream pounds 9.99.

Sexual abuse of children occurs in the most respectable families, and 16- year-old Jimmy Crichton has suffered 10 years of it from his father, a highly regarded local doctor. Jimmy abandons his Dundee home and heads for Glasgow, where he joins up with Dave, who persuades him to travel to London. Dave soon becomes a rent boy and it is after he has tearfully related his experience of being raped by a group of men that Jimmy finds and kills the man who instigated the humiliation. The story is told through alternating scenes from Jimmy's past and the questioning of police and child psychologists. The result is some often banal dialogue, apparently the product of research notes that the book fails to disguise. Tony Mooney

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