A Certain Age by Tama Janowitz | Into the Looking Glass Wood by Alberto Manguel | France in the New Century by John Ardagh
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

A Certain Age by Tama Janowitz (Bloomsbury, £6.99, 317pp)

The 32-year old heroine of Tama Janowitz's new metropolitan satire, Florence Collins, has spent the whole of her adult life in New York preparing for marriage. Like hundreds of other women in the city she has pumps with the latest heels, an apartment furnished with flea-market finds, dry-cleaned clothes, and a diary full of invites to parties at the Museum of Modern Art. Unlike them, however, Florence has no private income to fall back on. Given that everything in the "vast necropolis" has it's price - Capri-length trousers from Henri Bendel ($400); honey and amber high-lights ($300 a month); sun-dried tomatoes and smoked mozzarella on peasant bread ($20) - she regularly spends, after taxes, more than twice she earns.

Janowitz's Manhattan doesn't seem so different from the glitzy world portrayed by Tom Wolfe and Jay McInerny. It may be the 1990s, but Eighties excess is still king, and the author's suggestion that the city's women are seen as - and, more to the point, work hard at being seen as - exquisitely gift-wrapped packages, is a convincing one. In fact Janowitz would argue that nothing has changed for women since the days of Edith Wharton and that marriage to a high-profile fund manager is still every girl's dream.

As sharp and funny as Bonfire of the Vanities, Janowitz's portrait of New York high society (its heiresses, gossip columnists, titled Euro-trash) takes on a nightmarish quality as Florence's last ditch husband-hunt spirals into an unstoppable vortex of over-flowing toilet bowls, criminal acts and after-hours indiscretions. EH

Into the Looking Glass Wood by Alberto Manguel (Bloomsbury, £7.99, 273pp)

Alice and Borges are the twin muses behind these stimulating essays on the power of literature. Manguel suggests that a devotion to the fiction of failure prompted Borges's disastrous love-life. Recalling that Emerson read his own work as if for the first time when suffering from Alzheimer's ("These things are really good"), Manguel notes: "There are few places as real as paper and as bracing as ink".

France in the New Century by John Ardagh (Penguin, £9.99, 757pp)

An epic tour d'horizon from the UK's leading France-watcher. Ardagh is at his best plumbing the political sleaze and economic mismanagement which underlies the morosité ambiante currently afflicting France. On cultural matters, he may be right to slam Robbe-Grillet for enfeebling the French novel, but describing French rock as being in a "poor creative state" is hardly fair to Les Negresses Vertes.