IN BRIEF

The Frequency of Souls by Mary Kay Zuravleff, Chatto and Windus pounds 15.99.
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The Independent Culture
There is no particular reason why anyone would want to read about a middle-aged refrigerator designer whose cosy Washington existence (wife, two kids, 6000sq ft domicile) is thrown into hormonal upheaval by a new colleague (Niagara Spence: bright, gangly and fitted with a hearing aid). This first novel tests the curiosity of its readers by pinpointing every design update and store-bought fantasy in George Mahoney's banal universe. George doesn't just kiss his controlling spouse, Judy, he tastes "the toothpaste for sensitive gums she had recently switched to". Weaving through the gridlock of materialist backchat comes Niagara's abstruse quest to tune into the voices of the departed on her home-made radio kit.

What should be irritatingly zany has, in fact, a razor-sharp wit to it, not least because Zuravleff, a DC books editor, dwells more on this world than the next. It's as though she's trying to break some record for one-liners in a single volume, as she packages Mahoney's quiet, prevaricating despair. There's more here than you'll ever need to know about precocious kids, paleontology, clip-on ties and the history of the refrigerator. But behind the work's cool exterior lies a surprisingly warm account of family life and the strange, solitary wavelengths of its victims.

Dominic Cavendish

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