Paperbacks: First Aid The Lambs of London<br></br>A Tale of Love and Darkness<br></br>Pinkerton's Sister<br></br>Simone de Beauvoir<br></br>Budapest<br></br>Forgotten Armies<br></br>

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The Independent Culture

Set over a late-August weekend, Janet Davey's beautifully understated second novel follows the arc of a family crisis. Told in what feels like real time - emotions flare and cool at a natural pace - it's a novel that can be read only in bite-sized instalments. We are first introduced to Jo and her children - the teenagers Rob and Ella, and baby Annie - through the eyes of a fellow train passenger as they flee their family home in Kent for Jo's grandparents' place in London. Ella jumps from the train (one of the old-fashioned door-slammer kind) in an act of defiance that makes sense only as the novel unfolds. Jo, we learn, is a single parent whose life has hit rock bottom. Left by her husband, she and the children live in a rented seaside flat - "a sliced up version of her childhood home". Working in a part-time job at a local junk-shop, she meets Felpo, a charming loner who worms his way into her affections and into her bed. It's because of Felpo that the family are eventually forced to take flight. Adding to Jo's melancholic state of mind and a feeling of life lived on the edge is the novel's drab Kentish setting: an orbital landscape of motorways, municipal seafronts and Jeyes-scented pubs. First Aid is a novel that successfully negotiates life's more critical exits in a few short pages.EH

The Lambs of London by Peter Ackroyd (VINTAGE £6.99 (216pp))

At the heart of Ackroyd's latest novel lies an association between three young Londoners: William Henry Ireland, bookseller and forger of Shakespearean texts, and the literary siblings Charles and Mary Lamb. Ackroyd creates an undocumented romance between William and Mary, and reimagines the intense relationship of brother and sister. His recreation of the Lambs' Holborn household is a delight. As the family tuck into pork chops, we know matricide awaits - Mary kills her mother in 1796. As ever, fakery, in thought and deed, interests Ackroyd most. EH

A Tale of Love and Darkness By Amos Oz (VINTAGE £7.99 (517pp))

In the week that sees the emptying of Jewish settlements in Gaza, Oz's account of life in post-war Jerusalem makes for a fascinating read. Now in his sixties, Oz wrote these memoirs primarily to understand his mother's suicide (when he was 12), and his subsequent decision to change his name and join a kibbutz. The book (translated by Nicholas de Lange) is particularly good at describing the challenges facing Israel's more bookish arrivals. For most of his parents' friends, it was a triumph to keep a pot plant alive, let alone transplant Europe to the Levant. For Oz's mother, it proved one battle too many. EH

Pinkerton's Sister by Peter Rushforth (SCRIBNER £8.99 (729pp))

Rushforth's second novel was 25 years in the making, and you can see why. A novel about books, it probably contains more literary references per page than any other fiction. A turn-of-the-20th-century New York suburb is home to the spinsterish Alice, who prefers the company of Jane Eyre and Maggie Tulliver to her peers'. Alice doesn't speak in public, but pens acid observations on her hosts. One snowbound day, she dredges up memories of her miserable childhood, filtered through the eyes of her literary mentors - from the brothers Grimm to Mark Twain. A sprawling tour de force. EH

Simone de Beauvoir by Lisa Appignanesi (HAUS £9.99 (182pp))

In some ways, the work of De Beauvoir - path-finding feminist, fearlessly frank memoirist, novelist of public and private life - has survived in better shape than that of her consort for 50 years, Jean-Paul Sartre. Unlike him, she never lost what Appignanesi calls "the habit of reason". This lucid, incisive short biography keeps faith with the "critical clarity" that led its subject. It moves from her sparkling student days (second only to Sartre in France) through the titanic emotional and political battles of the 1940s and 1950s to a taboo-busting old age - on which, typically, she wrote two revolutionary books: one general theory; one unsparing memoir. BT

Budapest by Chico Buarque (BLOOMSBURY £6.99 (183pp))

Whatever British readers may expect from a novel by a Brazilian pop icon, Budapest will amaze and intrigue them. This view of the Danube from Ipanema Beach is sly, sensual and sophisticated. Buarque invents a ghost writer ensnared by love - and the odd Hungarian language - on his way back to Rio. Like Lost in Translation re-scripted by Saramago: this impish box of delights comes wrapped in a deft, witty translation by Alison Entrekin. BT

Forgotten Armies by Christopher Bayly & Tim Harper (PENGUIN £9.99 (555pp))

A magnificent history of the collapse of Britain's Asian empire during the Japanese war from 1941-1945. In British eyes the chief "forgotten" army was the 14th, which with other units (usually Indian) clawed the Allies back from the disasters in Singapore and Burma. But the authors deliver first-rate social history as much as an epic battlefield narrative. By August 1945, "God Save the King" sounded through the jungles once more, but now just as fast-fading noise. BT