Did the members of the London Philharmonic know what they were doing when they confided to that sympathetic journalist in the bar? The second viola thinks he's a better player than his desk-mate, the sub-principal of the violins wants her husband back, the harpist confesses to being "fascinated by the egg-slicer in the kitchen", and the double bass prays that "the orchestra is not going to be for the rest of my life". A cautionary tale of unhappy childhoods, broken marriages, crippling stage fright and underpaid drudgery - oh, and Franz . . . they all hate you.
COMPLETE AND UTTER FAILURE by Neil Steinberg, Pavilion £9.99
The author's childhood in suburban Ohio was so bland that he had to pep it up with superhuman challenges, like trying to slip down the gap between his bed and the wall, or staging magic shows for the entire neighbourhood without bothering to master the tricks beforehand. It was these experiences that inspired his lifelong empathy with those who strive, only to fail spectacularly. In the comfortable tones of a Yiddish Garrison Keiller, Steinberg interweaves tales of homespun bravado with those of more heroic proportions. How does it feel, for example, to fall off the stage in the finals of a National Spelling Bee?
KONFIDENZ by Ariel Dorfman, Sceptre £4.99
In this elliptical novel about the Second World War, a woman arrives in a Paris hotel room. The phone rings. It is someone claiming to have news of her lover who (he reveals) works for the French Resistance. But this stranger also claims that the woman is the incarnation of his recurring dream. He is in love with her. So far, so European, and the first half of this novella is beautifully poised and teasing. The trouble comes when Dorfman starts getting too self-conscious about the narrative manipulations he is engaged in. Clever, but vaguely disappointing.