Paperbacks

Starcarbon by Ellen Gilchrist (Faber, pounds 6.99)

Ellen Gilchrist's women live the American dream to the max. When they're not screwing cowboys, they're visiting therapists; when they're not snacking on fried chicken, they're drowning their talent in Chivas Regal. Gilchrist's latest update on the lives of the Manning and Hand families is a ride through familiar territory, but it lacks some of the edge which, in her previous books, made her such an astute chronicler of the rich bitch.

A Period of Adjustment by Dirk Bogarde (Penguin, pounds 5.99)

As the author is almost a fictional character himself, it's hard not to read a Dirk Bogart novel without picturing him in the leading role. In this, his fifth novel, he appears as William Caldicott, an uptight Englishman who, when faced with the death of his youngest brother from Aids and his own imminent divorce, falls in love. The resulting drama is played out against a suitably charming backdrop of Provencal farmhouses and Riviera hotels.

Virginia Woolf by James King

(Penguin, pounds 9.99)

The greatest achivement of Virginia Woolf's life, according to this sympathetic biography, was to stay alive as long as she did. Each day was a battle for survival, and she felt more confident writing her books than living her life. Her favourite topics - the destructiveness of men, the burdens of the past, and the fragility of life - not only cheered her up, but bought her enough time to become what she always wanted to be ... the Grand Old Woman of English Letters.

The Rape of Europa by Lynn H Nicholas (Papermac, pounds 12)

With the exception of modernist works (despised as "degenerate"), Nazi bosses were obsessed by art. In occupied Europe, they indulged their avarice on a massive scale. Goering gathered over a thousand old masters (gratifyingly, the most valued were fakes), while the museum in Linz, Hitler's childhood home, received 8,000 works. Despite careful detective work, many items have never been recovered. A tremendous story, enthrallingly told.

Unsent Letters by Malcolm Bradbury (Penguin, pounds 6.99)

Mannered epistolary squibs, whose forced humour (eg "The Golden Bowel by Henry James") is reminiscent of Punch at its creakiest. Bradbury's choice of targets - academic conferences, foreign researchers - is tired, and his tone annoyingly superior. Autobiographical fragments, such as making the front row ill by nervously twiddling with the gas taps when lecturing in a science hall, hint at the book that might have been.

Shadows of the Mind by Roger Penrose (Vintage, pounds 7.99)

Hawking's Law of Scientific Bestsellers (sales halve for every equation included) is boldly ignored by his fellow mathematician. The first indigestible chunk of algebra occurs on page 28 and it soon gets worse. This work on the gulf between mind and computer makes scant concession to the non-scientist. And Penrose allows a distressing number of exclamation marks to escape from his formulae into his prose.

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