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DR CLOCK'S LAST CASE & Other Stories by Ruth Fainlight, Virago, pounds 9.99

Best known as a poet, Ruth Fainlight should be read also for her short stories. The combination of childhood memories from America, and the fiesta lifestyle of expatriates in the Mediterranean provide a rich contrast. Poetic dreams and fairytales are told alongside events of erotic humour and black fantasy. But the most successful stories are those so evidentally set in England, with the grey drizzle and soiled streets. Most of these deal with life behind doors, stepping just beyond ordinary relationships into the psychologist's den. A middle-aged man is haunted by the ghost of his mother (who died in the Holocaust) in the shape of his daughter; a woman's marriage to her daughter's fiance; the unexplained midnight arrival of three likely terrorists at the house of a university professor: these stories demonstrate not only Ruth Fainlight's range of imagination but also the pleasures of taking psychologists seriously.

THE HEART OF THE WRITER by Jack Hodges, Sinclair Stevenson, pounds 20

This good-natured rummage through the lives of English writers is half biography, half census. Most of the writers on the mainstream syllabus of English Lit. are considered both as individuals and as members of a species. As a group, writers emerge as pretty much like anyone else: they have mothers, husbands, wives and children - they have their ups and downs. But the book is enlivened by hundreds of entertaining historical titbits. Apart from anything else, it contains one of the most enticing documentary gobbets you could ever wish to see: 'In the year Swinburne, at 28, published Atalanta in Calydon, he became a regular client at a sumptuous brothel, probably at 7, Circus Road, St John's Wood, to be whipped by one of two blonde ladies. A week before that first visit, his cousin Mary Gordon had turned him down for a middle- aged colonel in the 106th Light Infantry.' Those were the days, eh?

NEWTON'S NIECE by Derek Beaven, Faber, pounds 14.99

Derek Beaven's first book is an unusual and ambitious narrative, a smart, self-conscious historical novel strung between the centuries (and the sexes). It begins in a mad (literally) contemporary London and flicks back to the age of Isaac Newton, whose rational ambitions are mired in an era pregnant with old magic and even older human fevers. Newton's niece takes up the story herself, and her insistent, uncompromising voice gives the book an energetic charge of dangerous sexual politics. At one point science joins hands with Eros as the characters explore a new invention - the bra - one of many bright ideas recorded in the novel. And of course it is refreshing to think of brainy Newton, just for once, as 'Uncle Isaac'.

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