Paperbacks: Everything Will Be All Right<br/>Light on Snow<br/>My Nine Lives<br/>Dry Bones<br/>Write Away<br/>Caravaggio<br/>Spoon River Anthology

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The Independent Culture

Multi-generational sagas can be predictable affairs, but Tessa Hadley's second novel cuts straight to the chase, only addressing the really interesting questions about mothers, daughters and family ties.

Everything Will Be All Right by Tessa Hadley (VINTAGE £6.99 (422pp))

Multi-generational sagas can be predictable affairs, but Tessa Hadley's second novel cuts straight to the chase, only addressing the really interesting questions about mothers, daughters and family ties. The novel opens in post-war austerity Britain. In the absence of reliable men, northern sisters, Lil and Vera, have decided to move south. Lil, a Woodbine-puffing mother-figure, stays at home; Vera, a high-minded school-teacher, goes out to work. Her philandering husband, Dick, appears periodically to dazzle them all with his matinee idol looks. For Lil's daughter, Joyce, neither woman has made the right choice. A high achiever, she applies for a place at art school. Instead of a career, however, she marries her art tutor and channels her energies into creating an aesthetically pleasing home. Twenty years on, and Joyce's own daughter, Zoe, rejects domesticity for a life of the mind. She tries to earn a living writing on international affairs, but is constantly distracted by the hedonistic life-style of teen daughter, Pearl. Hadley paints a wonderfully accurate portrait of several eras of English family life. As in her debut Accidents in the Home, loose ends aren't so much tied up, as left to unravel. It's only Pearl's father who dares hope that "everything will be all right". EH

Light on Snow by Anita Shreve (ABACUS £6.99 (272pp))

In this cheesy psycho-drama set in wintry New Hampshire, Anita Shreve's page-turning rolls out some slickly packaged pronouncements on bereavement and loss. While out on a woodland walk widower Robert Dillon and his 12-year-old daughter, Nicky, come across an abandoned baby in a bloodied sleeping bag. A few weeks later, the Dillons are paid a visit by the baby's mother. Robert wants nothing to do with a child murderer - he stomps off to knock up some Shaker furniture in his barn - but motherless Nicky is seduced by their visitor's feminine charms and pink angora. Relationships thaw in the New England snow. EH

My Nine Lives by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (JOHN MURRAY £7.99 (277pp))

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala has spent her life on the move. The child of Jewish émigrés she has spent much of her adulthood commuting between Delhi and New York. The nine stories that make up her 18th book are told from the perspective of an older woman, imagining what life might have been. Not surprisingly, many of her narrators are from Central Europe, but find themselves shopping in Saks Fifth Ave or recreating Silesia along the Hudson River. All are obsessed by India, and many find themselves falling for men with "deep Indian eyes". Fiction that comes as close to autobiography as the author dares. EH

Dry Bones by Richard Beard (VINTAGE £6.99 (350pp))

Obituary-writers have made an appearance in several recent novels. Richard Beard's latest narrator is a celebrity grave robber. Jay Mason is experiencing a crisis of faith. Disillusioned by his calling as a Deacon in the Anglican Church of Geneva, he decides to participate in an illicit trade in famous relics. Switzerland's cemeteries are bursting with celebrity bones - Jung's knee, Chaplin's shoulder and Calvin's hip. Richard Burton's leg is worth almost as much as Thomas à Becket's toe. What is most refreshing about this crisp farce is its suave lakeside setting and cast of ingratiating Euro-clerics. EH

Write Away by Elizabeth George (HODDER £7.99 (296pp))

"The art of writing" says Elizabeth George in her preface to this guide to "fiction and the writing life" is "what you get to do once you become familiar with the craft". Acknowledging that "art cannot be taught", she gives short shrift to those who believe that writing "is a mysterious process that you either understand intuitively or not". Drawing on her own experience as a writer of bestselling crime fiction, she sets out the basics: character, of course, setting, plot etc. George continues to dispense her generous, no-nonsense advice to budding writers on courses as well as on the page. The standard dictum to "write about what you know" is, she says, "balderdash". CP

Caravaggio by Patrick Hunt (HAUS £9.99 (164pp))

Is there a more sinister picture than Caravaggio's David with the head of Goliath (1609-10)?

The young victor, with the artist's teenage face, holds the grimacing, severed head of - Caravaggio as he looked when he painted it. The National Gallery show of late works has once more turned a spotlight on the dark places of the genius, thug and killer who scandalised Rome. Hunt's brief, at times quirky, but engaged life offers a strong narrative and excellent illustrations for a bargain price. BT

Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters (HESPERUS £8.99 (246pp))

A beguiling rediscovery. Masters was a lawyer-writer from Illinois who, in 1915, broke with convention to produce this novel in verse made up of 214, mostly brief, epitaphs - voices from the cemetery of a fictional Mid-Western town. It's as if an Edwardian Tom Waits had tangled with John Updike. The ghostly monologues of the pious and the crooked, the proud and the pitiful, build into a satirical but moving mosaic of small-town life. There's nothing else in US literature quite like these phantom folk. BT

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