Paperbacks: Return to Paris
The Birds of the Innocent Wood
The Invention of Dr Cake
The London Pigeon Wars
The Curious Incident
Apology for a Murder
Clouds of Glory
Return to Paris by Colette Rossant (BLOOMSBURY £6.99 (245pp))
Good food writers, like good novelists, seem to benefit from a touch of maternal deprivation, and this is certainly true in the case of Franco-Egyptian cookery writer Colette Rossant. Shipped off to Cairo at the start of the war, she was looked after by her Sephardic grandparents and large extended family. Seven years later, her mother reappeared to take her back to France. Her latest foodie memoir (the sequel to Apricots on the Nile) describes a lonely adolescence trapped in the culinary cross-currents of a deeply foreign city. Rossant's first experience of French food was on the train from Marseille to Paris. The dining car menu consisted of two simple choices: omelette aux fines herbes or sandwich jambon beurre. She chose the omelette, realising if French food was this good, even on a train, she was going to have a good time. Once installed in the family's gloomy 17th-arrondissement apartment, she made friends with Georgette, her grandmother's cook. Georgette inducted her into the classics of French cuisine and showed her how to shop. Some of her recipes are included in the book. Rossant concludes this sentimental homage to the larders and markets of postwar Paris with a passion even stronger than food. Her courtship with a young American architect is sealed over salade des tomates and beouf en gelée - though by the end of the book she has baked her first pumpkin pie. EH
The Birds of the Innocent Wood by Deirdre Madden (FABER £6.99 (147pp))
First published in 1988, Deirdre Madden's startlingly accomplished novel still sends shivers down the spine. The circumstances of her heroine, Jane, are as tragic (and romantic) as any in Irish literature. An orphan before she could talk, Jane moves straight from the convent into the chilled silences of a tortured marriage. Madden describes Jane's inner demons with a poet's precision, while the quiet narrative of her life unfurls with the momentum of a good thriller. A truly haunting novel, set in an unsettling landscape of remote farmhouses and glassy loughs. EH
The Invention of Dr Cake by Andrew Motion (FABER £6.99 (142pp))
Andrew Motion's new book opens with a brainy meditation on the pitfalls of biography. "Aren't human beings always odder than their histories suggest? Aren't the connections between experience and achievement always more oblique?" His re-telling of the life of Dr Cake - a north London doctor and amateur poet of the mid-Victorian period - attempts to bypass the usual hours "spent sleuthing in the archives", with a more intuitive way of rendering the truth. In this, the kind of erudite novella you might expect from a poet laureate, Motion also speculates on the secret lives of Byron, Shelley and, above all, Keats. EH
The London Pigeon Wars by Patrick Neate (PENGUIN £7.99 (383pp))
Patrick Neate's Whitbread-winning novel Twelve Bar Blues was an epic trail through African-American history. Attacked at the time for being a white boy writing about black culture, Neate cheekily pre-empts his critics this time round with a character who possesses every race and class credential. Murray is a "social terrorist" who, let loose among west London twentysomethings, causes social havoc. More surreal is the arrival of talking pigeons - city birds who cherrypick every dialect going. Neate's targets include performance poets - and anyone over 30. EH
The Curious Incident... by Mark Haddon (VINTAGE £6.99 (272pp))
In spite of its huge success, some grown-up readers may have written off Mark Haddon's near-miraculous creation of the 15-year-old, Asperger's-afflicted Christopher Boone as just a cute and clever kids' story. As, on one level, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is. Shift the literary focus, however, and a sort of Swindon-set nouveau roman comes into view: a dazzling scherzo stuffed with avant-garde devices, boldly experimental to its grubby teenage fingertips. "Prime numbers", says Christopher, "are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away." Just like life. Haddon lets us work out the hidden patterns for ourselves. BT
Apology for a Murder by Lorenzino de Medici (HESPERUS £6.99 (58pp))
A wonderful Renaissance curiosity. In 1537, the young hellraiser Lorenzino de Medici assassinated his cousin Alessandro, Duke of Florence. As a trigger for rebellion, it failed dismally: Lorenzino fled to Venice, but penned this eloquent, swaggering defence of tyrant-killing. It's a little gem of moralising spin, in defence of pre-emptive violence. In a hilariously grim coda, translator Andrew Brown also reprints the rougher testimony of the thug who exacted Medici revenge on Lorenzino in 1548. BT
Clouds of Glory by Bryan Magee (PIMLICO £7.99 (343pp))
The Hoxton of Bryan Magee's childhood was a far cry from its current incarnation as the coolest place on the planet. In this vivid memoir, he offers lovingly detailed descriptions of a vanished world of barber shops, market stalls and pub pavements lined with prams. The mothers, he reveals, would nip out and "give the baby a drink" before returning to their hard-won booze. Violence was endemic and so was suicide: "There seemed to be two ways they did it," says Magee matter-of-factly, "the gas oven" and "cutting their throat". CP
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