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The Independent Culture
Altered States by Anita Brookner (Penguin, pounds 6.99) Just when a post-Sunday-lunch-like torpor starts to settle over her characters, Anita Brookner pulls the table-cloth out from under them. Her story of a sensible young solicitor who risks everything - including his unhappy marriage - for a night of passion at the George Cinq in Paris, is told with Brookner's customary style and economy. Another mesmerising study in the art of self- destruction.

In the Freud Archives by Janet Malcolm (Papermac, pounds 8) First published by The New Yorker in 1983, this is a brilliantly observed account of psychiatric acrimony over the Freud Archives in London. The dispute culminated in a $13m lawsuit brought by Jeffrey Masson, a Sanskrit scholar turned psychoanalyst, against the eminent Freudian KR Eissler, who first appointed, then rejected, Masson for the post of archivist. Following a $150,000 settlement, Masson sued Janet Malcolm for $11m over this very narrative. In a postscript, the author ruefully muses on the 11-year trial.

Through the Narrow Gate by Karen Armstrong (Flamingo, pounds 6.99) Medieval underwear, tepid baths and self-flagellation - just some of the treats in store for Karen Armstrong who, at the age of 17, rejected university in favour of a nunnery in Bedfordshire. Seven years later she collapsed suffering from anorexia and low self-esteem. First published in 1981, Armstrong's memoirs of Sixties convent life are a strong corrective for anyone who imagined a cloistered existence as one long, sunny afternoon of bee-keeping and fresh-faced old ladies.

Worst Fears by Fay Weldon (Flamingo, pounds 5.99) Following her husband's fatal heart attack, actress Alexandra Ludd returns home to find new candy- striped sheets on the marital bed and a freshly-hoovered house. Three of her closest female friends seem to have something to hide - but which of them did the dirty, and why won't they tell her where the body was found? Part realistic, part fantastical, a revenge comedy in which women are witches and men their drooling familiars. Weldon at her readable best.

Magic Hour by Jack Cardiff (Faber, pounds 9.99) A genial memoir of cinema's glory days from the great British cinematographer. Starting in the silent era, he gained an Oscar for Black Narcissus and revolutionised the use of colour in The Red Shoes. Cardiff's legendary technical expertise was matched by his rapport with the stars. We hear of Orson's fluffs, Marilyn's brittle charm and Bogie's successful technique for avoiding infection while shooting The African Queen (drink nothing but whisky). But many male readers will be flabbergasted by Cardiff's stoic resistance when Sophia Loren fell for him on location.

The Secret Sexist by David Bowker (Indigo, pounds 5.99) Guy Lockheart, star columnist of Women of Today, has a lot to share with his first men's group for eight months: he's slept with a porn model, got his sister-in-law pregnant, and seen his best friend fall out of a window while trying to defecate on the head of a passer-by. As a specimen of the Men Behaving Badly genre, Bowker's third novel has a certain laddish charm.

Manhattan Nocturne by Colin Harrison (Bloomsbury, pounds 4.99) Porter Wren is a tabloid columnist who "sells mayhem, scandal, murder and doom", but his steely objectivity fractures when he becomes entangled with Caroline Crowley, the seductive widow of a film director. Though it sounds tacky in precis, Harrison's articulate, sourly intelligent thriller is utterly enthralling. He imparts real depth to his creations and brilliantly portrays the city's "corollary darkness ... full of unremembered lives and lost music". Though marred by the Grand Guignol of its finale, this ambitious work carries echoes of both Roth and Updike.

Feng Shui for Lovers by Sarah Bartlett (Vista, pounds 5.99) The notion of what goes where in houses extended to your love life. Ms Bartlett has some handy hints on sexual technique: "To bring something totally new to your sexual experimentation, try making love on a bed of crisp pounds 10 notes ... it's the ultimate turn-on for Metal/Earth passion." Don't worry if you haven't got that much cash lying around, she adds consolingly - you can get the same effect from Monopoly money. Well, that's her story ...

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