Paperbacks

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A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton (Black Swan, pounds 6.99)

Jane Hamilton's patch is a sunlit world of roomy barns and well-built husbands and she makes much of it. But just as the novel teeters on the edge of cornball, a tragedy of Shakespearian proportions sweeps across the land. Not recommended for parents and small children.

A Little Too Much Is Enough by Kathleen Tyau (The Women's Press, pounds 6.99)

Born ``chunky like a tuna'' into a Chinese-Hawaiian family, Mehi Suzanne Wong fondly recalls her island childhood (and meals) in a series of spicy vignettes. Despite the range of her appealing appetisers, Tyau's novel never quite makes it to the main course.

Original Sin by P.D. James (Penguin, pounds 5.99)

Mandy's first month at the Peverell Press opens with a suicide and ends with a murder: it's her most interesting temp job yet. In the best Adam Dalgleish mystery to date, PD not only kills off a few publishers, but shows off her knowledge of London's more watery post codes.

Two or Three Things I Know for Sure by Dorothy Allison (Flamingo, pounds 4.99)

This short memoir includes pictures of the family Allison fictionalised for Bastard Out of Carolina. It's disconcerting to meet them face to face: honky-tonk uncles who went to jail the way other people went to high school, and tiny runty, white-faced cousins.

The Marriage of Likeness by John Boswell (Fontana, pounds 8.99)

This unimpeachable work of scholarship advances an extraordinary thesis: until an outburst of homophobia in the 14th century, same-sex unions in Europe were not uncommon and sometimes licensed by the church. A revealing exploration of ancient tolerance.

The Penguin Book of Vice ed by R. Davenport-Hines (pounds 12)

A trawl which includes such un-saucy matters as Motoring and Shopping. Most readers, however, will find their fingers straying to Adultery, Lust and Seduction. Straight sex emerges as more fun than perverted but an energetic Victorian transvestite (see Orgies) proves an exception.

Night by A. Alvarez (Vintage, pounds 7.99)

Prompted by twin passions for sleep and poker, this noctural ramble includes a brisk history of artificial light and an informed exploration of night in literature (but not, sadly, in the visual arts) The highlight is a vision of urban nightlife when Alvarez rides with the cops in New York and London.

Translating LA by Peter Theroux (Norton, pounds 8.95)

Freshly arrived in LA after working as a translator in Arabia, Theroux brings an exile's perceptivity to sprawling suburbs, freeways and buildings. Despite myriad ills LA remains a ``land of promise'', viz the six pages of plastic surgeons in the Beverly Hills Yellow Pages.

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