Paperbacks

<i>Host Family</i> by Mameve Medwed | <i>Memories of the Great and the Good</i> by Alistair Cooke | <i>Negrophilia </i>by Petrine Archer-Straw
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The Independent Culture

Host Family by Mameve Medwed (Gollancz, £9.99, 309pp) Daisy's husband Henry calls himself "Henri". In front of a camera he says "fromage". And at the opening of Medwed's second novel, at a party honouring the couple's 20-year stint as a host family for foreign students to Harvard, Daisy spots a blue beret peeking out of his breast pocket. Not that she has to put up with such sartorial faux pas for much longer. Over a post-celebration meal, Henry informs Daisy that their 20-year marriage is well and truly "fini".

Host Family by Mameve Medwed (Gollancz, £9.99, 309pp) Daisy's husband Henry calls himself "Henri". In front of a camera he says "fromage". And at the opening of Medwed's second novel, at a party honouring the couple's 20-year stint as a host family for foreign students to Harvard, Daisy spots a blue beret peeking out of his breast pocket. Not that she has to put up with such sartorial faux pas for much longer. Over a post-celebration meal, Henry informs Daisy that their 20-year marriage is well and truly "fini".

As in her first novel, Mail, Medwed takes the Ivy League setting of Cambridge, Mass, as the backdrop for a campus farce about marital breakdown and middle-aged love. Daisy Lewis has passed the last two decades in a postgraduate fug of child-rearing and meaningful employment. Although ready for her son's departure from home, she's less prepared for her husband's simultaneous flight to student digs in the company of a young Parisienne named Giselle. After an uninspiring encounter with a salesman, Daisy finds love in the person of Truman Wolff, a parasitologist whose research into the behaviour of tapeworms opens up a rich vein of wormy metaphors about symbiotic dependency and virus-host relationships. Things get more entwined when Daisy's son's girlfriend (daughter of Wolff) decamps with an Italian student. At times the close connections between Medwed's characters feel contrived, but this smart and warm novel of Harvard life is hard to put down. EH

Memories of the Great and the Good by Alistair Cooke (Pavilion, £7.99, 265pp) Ranging from FDR to Charles Schultz, these two dozen profiles are along the lines of Aubrey's Brief Lives, except they are free of sexy tittle-tattle. Cooke's polished appraisals are rich in the unexpected. We learn that arch-Republican Barry Goldwater approved of gays in the military and Broadway producer George Abbott was once a cowboy. One quibble: can Cooke be right when he says the New Yorker's Harold Ross only "read one whole book through"?

Negrophilia by Petrine Archer-Straw (T&H, £14.95, 200pp) This fascinating work reveals that the Parisian obsession with black culture in the 1920s went far beyond the exuberant Josephine Baker. Le virus noir emerges as a major influence on modernism, from Dadaism to Brancusi. Nancy Cunard, who edited an anthology called Negro, is a major figure, though the author does not mention Waugh's dig at her in Decline and Fall. Archer-Straw concludes that the negrophile's embrace of blacks was "a very difficult relationship".

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