Paperbacks :REVIEWS

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A Valley in Italy by Lisa St Aubin de Teran (Penguin pounds 6.99)

The excitingly named Lisa St Aubin de Teran has put many miles between herself and her less exciting origins in South London.Her spiritual homes have included Venezuelan haciendas, castles in Norfolk, and now a crumbling palazzo buried deep in the Umbrian hills. With its high windows, marble sills and approach of black cypresses it's easy to fall under the Villa Orsola's spell... though it's the grace of St Aubin de Teran's writing that really bewitches.

A Private View by Anita Brookner (Penguin, pounds 5.99)

George Bland faces a dilemma: will he see through his carefully-laid plans for a comfortable retirement, or sleep with the determined young American across the hall? Returning to one of her favourite themes - in prose as elegantly muted as the Peter Jones furniture that fills George's flat - Brookner asks the reader to consider one of the great imponderables: do the good get their just desserts, or end up shopping for them at Marks and Spencers?

The Oxford Book of Schooldays edited by Patricia Craig (Oxford, pounds 7.99)

For a nation obsessed with its schooldays, the choice of literary goodies on the subject, like a well stocked tuck box, is enough to make the heartiest anthologist queasy. To her credit Patricia Craig has packed old favourites (Billy Bunter, Widmerpool and the Brodie set) alongside less well known treats from Elizabeth Bowen and Jane Gardam: though her own particular "pash" seems to be Arthur Marshall, that self-styled expert on "Why Girls will be Girls".

Partial Eclipse by Lesley Glaister (Penguin, pounds 5.99)

Jenny and her grandmother both come back from their Christmas holidays in a Scottish hotel madly in love. Jenny adores Tom, a sexy married man, and her granny has fallen for Ursula, a suspiciously large-boned woman with whom she likes to lie in bed all day watching Little House on the Prairie on television. Lesley Glaister's absorbing fifth novel gets to grips with the physicality of first love, and the fluffiness of angora sweaters.

Snow Storms in a Hot Climate by Sarah Dunant (Virago, pounds 5.99)

Somehow it's hard to abandon yourself to a detective novel written by a well known television personality. That's not to say that Sarah Dunant's tale of the ballsy, bourbon-slugging Marla, sent to New York to rescue her friend from the clutches of an evil South American drugs cartel, isn't perfectly readable; just undermined a little by the thought that Maria might be wearing a pair of those big red glasses.

The Hidden Children by Jane Marks (Bantam Books, pounds 5.99)

"I was 12 on the morning in 1942 when the police in Zabno, Poland, where we lived, stuck a gun to me and asked me where my father was." All the interviews in Jane Mark's book, like this one with Ann Shore, begin with a memory of the exact moment when childhood ended for ever. Separated from their parents, many Jewish children hid themselves up chimney stacks, under floorboards and even in cemeteries. Their stories are the stuff of nightmares.

The Life and Death of Peter Sellers by Roger Lewis (Arrow, pounds 9.99).

Lewis displays a virtually clinical obsession with his subject, oscillating between awe for Sellers' best film performances (few after 1963) and fascinated repulsion at his off-screen behaviour. Chronology is spooled back and forth to build up a pointillist portrait of this "real-life Zelig" and "moral amnesiac". The 1,000- page result is disturbing, repetitive, vertiginous but compelling.

Other Lulus by Philip Hensher (Penguin, pounds 5.99).

In his first novel, Hensher successfully negotiates the challenge of creating a female, German-speaking narrator. In Vienna, an opera singer and her teacher conduct a desultory romance. There is a fragmentary plot about a manuscript of Alban Berg's unfinished opera Lulu. The characters are wittily described, but this novel is akin to a French art-house film, handsomely mounted and highly cultured but rather etiolated and slow-moving.

The History of the Ginger Man by J P Donleavy (Penguin, pounds 12).

This 500-page memoir covers the period in the Fifties between the completion and publication of Donleavy's best-known novel. His declamatory style is well suited to recounting rackety days in Ireland with the likes of Brendan Behan ("Give me Vat 69 and I don't mean the Pope's telephone number"). It's an eccentric if entertaining autobiography, but occasionally you feel cornered by an unstoppable pub bore.

The Bird Artist by Howard Norman (Faber, pounds 5.99).

This dark tale is set among the oddly-named citizens of Witless Bay, Newfoundland, in the early years of the century. A bald summary, listing murder, revenge, adultery and suicide, would give an erroneous impression of towering passions and purple prose. In fact, these cod-chomping, rock- bound folk of the North Atlantic are laconic in the extreme. An outstanding work, imbued with strange, Hardyesque potency.

Churchill: The End of Glory by John Charmley (Sceptre, pounds 9.99)

Charmley's reappraisal was used by Alan Clark to support his bizarre argument that, by suing for peace in 1940, Churchill could have secured independence for Britain, bolstered the economy and saved the Empire. In fact, this is a persuasive portrait of a fallible politician. But it is inconceivable that the man who inspired the nation in 1940 could have sought peace at the same time.

Feather Fall by Laurens van der Post (Penguin, pounds 7.99).

A commonplace book selected from the works of Prince Charles's favourite guru. He displays amazing generosity of spirit to his Japanese wartime captors and explores the spirituality of the Kalahari bushmen with great sensitivity. But he is prone to the sweeping statement ("Russians are naturally a communal people because they are basically a primitive people") and many of the entries carry a whiff of sanctimony.