Books: To have and to hold, in football and in love

Middle age and youth: Lilian Pizzichini on recent story and essay collections

Middle-aged melancholy is the prevailing mood of novelist Lee Langley's collection of interlinked short stories, False Pretences (Chatto pounds 11.99). Widowed Josie and unmarried Susan drift through a series of encounters, either on the periphery or in the foreground of each piece. Langley distills moments of opportunity that are missed or embraced by each woman, and that gradually coalesce into lives that are filled with a diffuse sadness and touched with fleeting pleasures. Epiphanies are rare, and when they do occur, they are marked with compromise.

In "Tango", Gloria, just one of a series of bored, single, middle-aged women, learns to tango in order to impress Geoffrey, the colleague at whom she has set her cap. "This was the moment, the cusp of the year, with change in the air, when the subject of the office dance invariably came up." Langley is far too subtle, and too much of a realist, to allow her heroine a romantic climax to her dance. Instead, the bland Gloria is transformed into a sinuous, whirling "Lola Montez" complete with kiss- curl and spiky high heels. Geoffrey, meanwhile, is revealed in all his mediocrity: "Just another grey man. He held no mystery."

If read all at one go, the mood in Langley's delicately constructed stories starts to pall, and the heavy stillness of claustrophobic interiors and muggy weather - the indulgence in heady nostalgia - induce a feeling of disaffection. But, taken one at a time, her tableaux make languid appeals for empathy, and the faltering steps these women take in order to evade positive action successfully evoke the dramatic complexities of their inner lives.

Michel Faber is a younger writer, and his first collection of short stories, Some Rain Must Fall (Canongate pounds 8.99), displays a need to impress. Each story shows off a range of voices, characters, styles, and acute psychological probing.

The title story, which won last year's Ian St James award, is a sincere, sympathetic portrayal of a trouble-shooting teacher sent in to counsel a class of children who have witnessed a harrowing act of violence. Frances Strathairn brings order and compassion to her charges, but not to her own life. Like Langley, Faber is concerned with moments of crisis, but not necessarily with exposition. Sister Josephine in "In Case of Vertigo" contemplates suicide from the snug safety of her car perched on the edge of a cliff. Faber chronicles the daily routine which repeatedly puts off the dread moment.

In these instances Faber offers a perceptive analysis of characters in extremis. But in his eagerness to experiment with form, he occasionally lapses into surreal hypothetical set-ups which fail to convince. "Miss Fatt and Miss Thinne" takes its protagonists' names all too literally, and their absurd dilemma provokes neither laughter nor sympathy. In creating a world in which anything can happen, when it does happen, it's hardly a surprise.

Novelist and translator Tim Parks is concerned with moral dilemmas as they affect his and his friends' lives. Parks lives with his Italian wife and children in Verona where he has immersed himself in the European tradition of belles lettres. Adultery & Other Diversions (Secker pounds 12.99) is the work of a man approaching middle age and confronting these themes in the form of autobiographical essays, looking back on his life, and forward through his children's.

Each essay displays a humanity, grace and lucidity that illuminates his writing. Parks brings a wide range of reading - Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Roberto Calasso - to these deeply personal pieces, in which philosophical abstractions are brought to bear on straying husbands and the endless trials of child- rearing. This is especially the case in "Analogies", where Parks attempts "to establish a difference between fidelity and faith, in football and love". The divide between passion and family, both absolutes and both seemingly irreconcilable, creates a tension that recreates his adulterous friend's pressing need for self-affirmation. Ultimately, each sexual betrayal is no more diverting than the fly that buzzes around Parks's computer screen while he wrestles with a difficult passage that he is trying to translate.

Duty or diversion, glory or mundanity: Parks teases out the implications these weighty concepts have on our lives. That he succeeds is due to his skill as a storyteller and his lightness of touch in meting out his considerable erudition.

Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea


In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops


Arts and Entertainment
Full circle: Wu-Tang’s Method Man Getty

Music review

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game