Paperbacks: Rise and Shine<br/> The Evening of the Holiday <br/> The Brooklyn Follies <br/> Slow Man <br/> Sick and Tired <br/> Ivan's War <br/> Shakespeare: the Biography

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The Independent Culture

Rise and Shine, By Anna Quindlen (HUTCHINSON £11.99 (269pp))

The CNN presenter Kyra Phillips may have survived her open mike broadcast from the ladies' bathroom, but the celebrity heroine of Anna Quindlen's fifth novel doesn't override a similar technical glitch. When New York breakfast show host Meghan Fitzmaurice closes a live interview with an internet mogul with the fatal sign-off "Fucking asshole", she loses her anchor slot and the respect of a nation. Why the perfectionist Meghan - with a life as sleek as her auburn bob - lets her public mask momentarily slip, is a mystery that only her younger sister, Bridget, the novel's narrator, can explain. A social worker in the Bronx, Bridget relates the story of Meghan's career to date: from an orphaned childhood, through to life as the owner of an Upper East Side triplex. When Meghan goes missing in a luxury resort in the Caribbean, Bridget and her boyfriend - an old-school New York cop - are left to track her down. Anna Quindlen, a contributor to Newsweek, writes with a columnist's eye for social nuance and Manhattan manners. Reminiscent of Nora Ephron's social satires, Rise and Shine is punctuated with quips about New York real estate, food and dating rituals. A novel about sisters and how to survive in a city where you are only as good as your last pay cheque. EH

The Evening of the Holiday, by Shirley Hazzard (VIRAGO £7.99 (149pp))

First published in 1966, Shirley Hazzard's intense novelette describes a love affair between a young woman, Sophie, and an older married man, Tancredi. The conventions of polite Italian society provide an elegant backdrop to some complicated and contorted emotions. Meeting in cafés and hotel lobbies, the lovers conduct a relationship more about unspecified yearnings than amore and sex. While the delicately expressed details of Sophie's love affair soon evaporate, Hazzard's passionate evocation of Tuscany's late summer landscape is hard to forget. EH

The Brooklyn Follies, by Paul Auster (FABER £7.99 (304pp))

Making amends is a popular theme among American novelists, and in his most mainstream novel to date Paul Auster gives the closure narrative a contemporary gloss. After a brush with lung cancer, a divorced salesman, Nathan Glass, moves to Brooklyn to rebuild his life. Collecting the stories of other people's mishaps in a volume he calls The Book of Human Folly, he decides to devote the rest of his life to his daughter, and the children of his dead sister. Just as he experiences his most contented moment, in the morning on 11 September 2001, the countdown to another catastrophe has begun. EH

Slow Man, by J M Coetzee (VINTAGE £7.99 (265pp))

Paul Rayment is on the threshold of retirement when he's knocked off his bike in a road accident and loses his leg. In hospital he refuses offers of a prosthesis, and skulks back to his Adelaide flat, where he is cared for by Marijana, a Croatian nurse. As you might have guessed, he falls in love with his stolid carer, but events are complicated by the arrival of Elisabeth Costello - an ageing novelist, and central character of one of Coetzee's previous novels. In characteristically spare and commanding prose, Coetzee poses such bleak questions as whether a man who hasn't lived well should continue to live at all. EH

Sick and Tired, by Nick Read (PHOENIX £8.99 (276pp))

At long last, a book not by some New Age nutter, but by an eminent doctor on the massive challenges our society faces in "healing the illnesses doctors cannot cure". "By every objective measure," says Read, "people now have less disease and are living longer." More and more of us, however, seem to be dogged by digestive disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome and other debilitating conditions that elude the batteries of tests that are the specialist's usual stock-in-trade. By placing these conditions in a cultural and historical context, Read argues for a radical alternative to the standard medical model. A book that should be prescribed to all medics. CP

Ivan's War, by Catherine Merridale (FABER £9.99 (396pp))

This gripping history of the wartime Red Army - and the civilians around them - opens and closes in Kursk, where in 1943 Soviet forces won the battle of the century. Merridale digs deep into the emotional world of the front-line, and its veterans now. Her blood- and tear-stained epic never loses a flair for the human touch. A masterpiece of empathy and insight, the book demystifies "the cult of the patriotic war" to count the true cost of victory. BT

Shakespeare: the Biography, by Peter Ackroyd, (VINTAGE £9.99 (546pp))

From Ackroyd you'd expect a Bard's life thrillingly crowded with the bustle of London lanes, theatres and taverns. That he delivers in spades. You might also expect a woozy backdrop of deep-English mysticism. Instead, he tells it straight, melding recent scholarship into a fluent and balanced tale free of wild whimsy. Ackroyd, another total pro, has here absorbed his subject's genius for "studied neutrality" - and his "subdued gaiety". BT

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