Paperbacks Reviewed by Emma Hagestadt and Christopher Hirst

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The Independent Culture
Art and Lies by Jeanette Winterson (Vintage, pounds 5.99)

Now that the passions surrounding the original publication of this novel last year have abated, perhaps it will be given a second chance. Not one to avoid big ideas, Winterson asks: What is Art? An escape from reality or reality itself? Her highly coloured canvas - featuring Handel as a gynaecologist, Picasso as a woman and Sappho as herself - is thrilling and confusing in equal measure.

The Faber Book of London ed AN Wilson (Faber, pounds 9.99) Wilson prizes gamey alley-ways above glamorous boulevards in this eccentric but absorbing topography (one chapter is simply called "Seedy"). Gems include Geoffrey Fletcher on public loos ("keeping fish in a lavatory tank is a delightfully rococo idea"). Bafflingly, though, the suburbs, where most Londoners are obliged to live, are by- passed, aside from a visit to Swinburne's bizarre menage in Putney.

Companion to Narnia by Paul F Ford (HarperCollins, pounds 10.99)

Do you remember that terrible moment when you first got wise to the fact that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was some kind of Christian allegory ?... The goblet of Turkish delight seemed to lose its flavour. Paul T Ford, an ex-Benedictine monk from Arcadia (California, that is) furthers the process of disenchantment by providing a complete reference guide to CS Lewis's Narnia.

The Hite Report on the Family by Shere Hite (Sceptre pounds 6.99)

Poor Shere Hite has put up with a lot of stick: her methodology, analytical skills and Madonna-blond hair are all regularly called to task. But unexplained pique aside, it's hard to deny that her most recent research raises some interesting questions about the role of the family in shaping sexuality and gender, and about alternatives to the traditional unit. Hite's interviewees are a classy lot, too - noticeably low on hot-tub scenarios.

Wild Horses by Dick Francis (Michael Joseph, pounds 9.99)

Who killed the Cornish Boy? Is the Cornish Boy a horse or a stable lad? True Francis groupies will already know the answer (this novel has been reprinted three times since September), but for those less quick off the mark, a film-world meets the racing world treat lies in store. "Mega-stars" drive around in "Rollers", lovers "tumble half-naked" and actors quiver with "vibrating power". Francis should stick to horses.

The New Italians by Charles Richards (Penguin, pounds 7.99)

This revealing guide gets behind la dolce vita and investigates the wormy corruption of bribesville, Mafia brutality and a creakily inefficient state which absorbs 40 per cent of the labour force. There is a brighter side, though. Dismissing the myth that Italian women balloon after marriage, Richards notes a foreign manufacturer's surprise at discovering scant demand for brassieres more capacious than the B-cup.