Paperbacks: Making Babies
Having a Lovely Time
The Various Haunts of Men
Mapping the Edge
House of Bush, House of Saud
Pushing Time Away
Friday 22 July 2005
Britain's maternity wards may not be the most hygienic of places to give birth, but women's writing on the subject has never been healthier. Back in the Sixties, Margaret Drabble charted new territory with her novel The Millstone, in which she lifted the lid on motherhood and soaking nappies. In recent years, Helen Simpson, Rachel Cusk and Kate Figes have added their voices to this flourishing sub-genre. Anne Enright's book, written as a series of essays, captures her own experience of becoming a mother in her late thirties. Written with that "wildness of tone" of the post-partum parent, her entries range from meditations on leakage (milk and blood) to humorous riffs on the more ridiculous excesses of middle-class parenting. Seeing the world through her newly-crawling daughter's eyes, she regrets her minimalist good taste, noting that there is "not a single curlicued carpet for her to crawl over, not a single flower on the wall". Engaging and astringent though Enright's writing is, you do wonder what kind of reader will stay the course. New mothers either want the ER version of childbirth (as in the blood-and-gore drama of BBC3's series Desperate Midwives), or the fictional account. Novels rather than birthing diaries are perhaps better at fitting those years into the bigger picture. EH
Having a Lovely Time, by Jenny Eclair (TIME WARNER £6.99 (313pp))
Jenny Éclair's entertaining second novel is a winningly contemporary account of marriage and adultery. The book's leading alpha male, Guy Jamieson, thinks he is about to embark on his last family hols. He plans to leave his wife Alice - with her "stout ladies' pants" and shepherd's pie dinners - for a girl in a thong. Alice, meanwhile, harbours secret desires to have another child. A natural storyteller, Éclair enlivens her south-London-based narrative with non-irritating bons mots about interior décor, extramarital sex and bad parenting. The result is frank without being frightening. EH
The Various Haunts of Men, by Susan Hill (VINTAGE £6.99 (549pp))
More of a cathedral-close romance than a hard-boiled thriller, Susan Hill's first foray into crime fiction might leave fans of the genre disappointed. In this opening volume in a trilogy of Simon Serrailler mysteries, Hill's enigmatic detective chief inspector turns out to be like Inspector Morse - only not so nice. We first meet him sipping Earl Grey in his mother's front room. His young sidekick, Freya Graffham, recently recruited to help him solve a string of local murders, is immediately smitten by her boss's charms. His elegant fingers and the "smell of hot tea" set the hormones racing: irresistible. EH
Mapping the Edge, by Sarah Dunant (VIRAGO £7.99 (352pp))
Long before writing her bestseller The Birth of Venus, Sarah Dunant had fallen for the charms of Italy. First published in the late 1990s, her Florence-based thriller Mapping the Edge plays with the idea of alternative existences. The novel's heroine, Anna, a working single mother, goes off on an impromptu weekend to Tuscany. Here she embarks on a charged liaison with a married man. When she doesn't return to London, it seems that she may have been the victim of an abduction. An adventurous novel that explores what happens when sexual compatibility and personal trust don't go hand in hand. EH
Author, Author, by David Lodge (PENGUIN £7.99 (389pp))
It's not a race, nor a contest. David Lodge's pitch-perfect bio-novel about Henry James and his crisis of the mid-1890s neatly complements Colm Tóibín's The Master, and merits equal applause. Genial, droll and capable of loving friendship (notably with the beautifully drawn Du Maurier family), Lodge's James is no bloodless aesthete but a shrewd professional coming to terms with the new hype and glitz of the fin-de-siècle literary and media scene. After the West End débâcle of Guy Domville, he admits defeat, turns inwards, and a harvest of late masterpieces beckons. A beguiling portrait of a proud writer, his circle and times - with a lime-lit glimpse of the birth of the age of "celebrity". BT
House of Bush, House of Saud, by Craig Unger (GIBSON SQUARE £8.99 (375pp))
An update of this first-rate investigation into the Bush family's long entanglement with ruling Saudi clans. Unger traces every step of a 20-year dance in the dark that brought huge benefits to the Bushes, their corporate cronies, and to an oil-rich elite whose relatives flirted with extremism. Just after 11 September, 140 Saudis were spirited out of the US, some two dozen Bin Ladens among them. BT
Pushing Time Away, by Peter Singer (GRANTA £8.99 (254pp))
Radical moral philosopher Peter Singer proves himself a pioneer again in a compelling family memoir. Singer goes in search of his Viennese grandfather, a secular Jewish intellectual in the city and era of Freud. David Oppenheim always fought for universal values; in 1943, the Nazis murdered him with their labels and limits. A gem of a journey, all the more brilliant for its refusal of sentimental clichés. BT
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