Paperbacks: In the Fold<br/>Protection<br/>The Pure in Heart<br/>Come Dance with Me<br/>Memoir<br/>We Are Iran<br/>What Good Are the Arts?

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The Independent Culture

In the Fold, by Rachel Cusk (FABER £7.99 (224pp))

From Waugh to Alan Hollinghurst, English novelists have been seduced by upper-class life. In her inscrutable fifth novel, Rachel Cusk casts the country-house spell to great effect, entrapping her characters in an airless pastoral idyll. Michael, the novel's narrator, first comes in contact with aristocratic eccentricity when his college friend, Adam Heywood, invites him to the family estate in Devon, the enigmatically named Egypt. Over the course of a summer night, he falls in love both with the austerely beautiful setting and with Adam's family -- a clan of bohemian women, gnarly men and sprite-like girls. Sixteen years on and Michael is a married lawyer living in Bath. His wife Rachel, destabilised by motherhood, pours her heightened energies into emotional skirmishes and a rapidly developing taste for scary footwear. Her parents shower the couple with marital advice. When Adam Heywood invites Michael to help with the spring lambing, Michael readily accepts. Michael's return to Egypt never quite results in the redemption you might expect. Like a streetwise version of a Murdoch novel, Cusk's narrative ducks and weaves between unspoken interior reference points. Egypt's sunlit uplands provide a beguiling mythical backdrop to a novel about the realities of human relationships and the power of property and past. EH

Protection, by Molly McCloskey (PENGUIN £7.99 (309pp))

Contemporary Irish family life comes under close scrutiny in short-story writer Molly McCloskey's capable first novel. Forty-something Gillian has achieved a certain notoriety as the founder of a self-help retreat for high-achievers. She is also conducting an affair with an ex-workmate, and taking care of an aunt with Alzheimer's. Her husband Damien is hoping to move from "plausible sexual object" to "cute doddery harmlessness", but fears an interim period of mid-life lechery. Their daughter Heather is addicted to sci-fi soaps on the Dystopia Channel. A humorous riff on the multiple indignities of incipient middle-age. EH

The Pure in Heart, by Susan Hill (VINTAGE £6.99 (518pp))

For a novelist preoccupied by death and loss of innocence, Susan Hill's reinvention as a detective writer is a natural transition. The second in her series of cathedral-town mysteries, this latest whodunit revolves around the search for a missing schoolboy. In Hill's world, characters are as important as the search. Detective Chief Inspector Serrailler is as withdrawn as ever - withholding sex and love. Detective Sergeant Coates is hounded off the council estate of his childhood and Serrailler's twin sisters - one pregnant, one disabled - provide a touching back story. Hill and her surly gumshoe are getting into their stride. EH

Come Dance with Me, by Russell Hoban (BLOOMSBURY £7.99 (188pp))

In Russell Hoban's fictional universe, first dates can be dangerous affairs. Christabel Alderton and Elias Newman meet by accident at the Royal Academy of Arts. He is a 62-year old diabetes specialist who's never fallen in love, she's a 54-year old rock singer who thinks she brings bad luck to any man she touches - even her son, Django never made it to the age of four. In a kooky, but impressively lean narrative, Hoban follows the odd couple as they travel from the River Lea in Clapton to the beaches of Hawaii in an attempt to dispose of some of their excess baggage. EH

Memoir, by John McGahern (FABER £7.99 (288pp))

When his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, McGahern begged God to spare her. "I'd be waiting for you all in heaven", his mother tells him, but McGahern protests. "God has lots in heaven," he yells, "I have nobody". Nobody, that is, except his brutal, violent, erratic father, who spent the remaining years of his offspring's childhood raging at John and his cowering siblings. McGahern's last book is a devastating portrayal of a "theocracy in all but name", a culture in which cruelty is as prevalent as the Catholic church. McGahern promised his mother that he would become a priest; in the end he "followed a different call". Tragically, that journey is over. CP

We Are Iran, by Nasrin Alavi (PORTOBELLO £9.99 (379pp))

Dump your presumptions and enjoy this enlightening selection from Iran's fearless bloggers. Making books of blogs is a fledgling art, but Alavi weaves pointed extracts, commentary and revealing images into a cogent tapestry that takes in pop and politics, faith and family. Funny, savvy, thoughtful, Iran's online network emerges as an axis of good, and hope, in the face of bigots and thugs at home and abroad. They need our blessings, not our bombings. BT

What Good Are the Arts? By John Carey (FABER £7.99 (296pp))

Carey buffs up his reputation as the cab-driver don with this skewed attack on the notion that the arts can uplift or improve us. At once pompous and blokeish, he aims lame jibes at modern art (surprise!) but retreats into traditional raptures about literature, with its superior "thought-content". Only someone blessed with a long career's privileged access to culture could foul his nest in quite this smug way. A vain new afterword snarls at some well-founded criticisms. BT

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