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Literary Seductions by Frances Wilson (Faber, £12.99, 258pp)

Literary Seductions by Frances Wilson (Faber, £12.99, 258pp)

IN LINE with Johnson's view about blockheads, writing and money, Frances Wilson holds that "a writer's resistance to his craft shows evidence of a healthy self-preservative mechanism". However, she is fascinated by obsessive writers (someone said of Ibsen: "He is a pen") and those who are enraptured by them, or, rather, their output. As Wilson notes, "in literary seductions, it is writing that seduces, not the seducer". This exotic study focuses on three relationships between slaves of the word.

First stop is Paris for the "literary fuck-fest," as Henry Miller tenderly termed his liaison with Anaïs Nin. Wilson writes dazzlingly about the hotbed milieu of this twosome who shared unappeasable appetites for books and sex. Next, we're off to London for the pairing of "serial muse-seeker" Robert Graves and batty American poet Laura Riding. Since it was essential for him to have a muse, Graves felt few qualms in deserting wife and children. Their liaison famously ended in joint defenestration - fourth floor for her, third for him.

It comes as a cold shock to enter the 20th century and meet Osip and Nadezhda Mandelstam. Osip disappeared into one of Stalin's concentration camps around 1938. His wife preserved his poetry, partly by concealing it in cooking pots, but mainly through memory, like the characters in Fahrenheit 451. Wilson has produced a sexy firework of a book, seamed with enjoyable digressions. CH

Pieces of Light by Adam Thorpe (Vintage, £6.99, 479pp)

AT THE age of seven, Hugh, brought up in Africa, is put on a boat back to England. His uncle's estate in Ulverton is as foreign to him as Africa was to his parents, and his belief in spirits is his only protection against the new world. Years later, as an old man, Hugh returns to the English countryside to find that the pale fields and thin woods are still places of mystery. As richly descriptive as his first novel, Thorpe tackles the themes of colonialism and war while allowing Hugh's more intimate history to take centre stage.

Dating Big Bird by Laura Zigman (Hutchinson, £10, 247pp)

AS WE know from Melissa Bank's bestseller on the subject, finding an eligible boyfriend in New York is even harder than finding an apartment on the Upper East Side. To find a man to give you babies, you'd better start surfing the Net for donors. The heroine of Zigman's upbeat novel, 35-year-old Ellen Franck, is a fashion PR. Her boyfriend is more interested in cooking than sex. Zigman's journey round the biological clock confronts the worst excesses of the Mommie-Wannabe Disorder without getting too Ally McBealish about it.

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