Paperbacks: The Amateur Marriage<br/>Wish I May<br/>Dead Girls<br/>The Nick of Time<br/>After Theory<br/>Hello World<br/>The Adventure of English

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The Independent Culture

Over the course of her writing career, Tyler has followed the well-worn grooves of several Baltimore marriages.

The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler (PIMLICO £8.99 (316pp))

Over the course of her writing career, Tyler has followed the well-worn grooves of several Baltimore marriages. Her latest novel relates the most frustrating scenario of all: a union in which two partners constantly collide, but not dramatically enough to call it a day. As with many of their generation, Michael and Pauline's marriage is the result of a wartime romance. Michael is stacking bars of soap when he meets Pauline - brought into his family's grocery store after she falls from a streetcar during a military parade. He bandages her cuts and the course of their future lives is sealed. From wartime bride to bored housewife, Pauline's post-war life is lived out in a shiny housing development in Baltimore County. It soon becomes apparent that marriage is more complicated than falling in love. Pauline's frustrations are channelled into interior design - ash-blond wood and "boomerang" shaped mirrors - and, later, a flirtation with a divorced man. Meanwhile, the emotionally illiterate Michael wonders if it's possible "to dislike your own wife". Tyler's narrative voice is more melancholy than in previous novels, but her seamless depiction of unfolding lives is as deft as ever. Her innocents are trapped as much by bad timing as one another. EH

Wish I May by Justine Picardie (PICADOR £6.99 (326pp))

The heroine of Picardie's fiction debut, single mother Kate Linden, is struggling to come to terms with her mother's untimely death. She lives in north London with her eight-year-old son, and earns a living writing about the "semiotics of lipstick" for a glossy magazine. Her retreat from the real world is her aunt's house in Norfolk, home to her glamorous cousins and scene of her mother's accident. In this memorable novel about the hazards of growing up among the smart and depressed, Kate does daily battle with her past. A Nick Hornby- style romance with a divorced dad cheers her up no end. EH

Dead Girls by Nancy Lee (FABER £7.99 (285pp))

Lee's debut collection of short stories shares some of the fuzzy horror of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones. In the background of these Vancouver-based tales lurks a watchful serial killer. His victims are young women interested in sex, but not necessarily in men. In death, their bodies are found buried in suburban back yards, arranged in groups "hip against hip, skull upon skull, fingers entwined". As you might expect, the murderer turns out to be a retired dentist with a face like "somebody's balding uncle". Welsh-born Lee writes with chilly authority about desperate relationships and an urban landscape that offers no place to hide. EH

The Nick of Time by Francis King (ARCADIA £11.99 (308pp))

The novelist and critic King has set his 28th novel among London's illegal immigrants. His early work was about finding acceptance in an alien setting, and The Nick of Time returns to a similar theme. Mehmet, a young Kosovan, makes his way through London relying on the kindness of strangers. Meg, an elderly MS sufferer, puts him up, and Marilyn, a shy GP, sleeps with him. In between pit stops, Mehmet throws himself into London's gay scene, only to have his illegal status outed. King's affection for the capital leaps off the page - a London of lonely bedsits and wilting M&S tuna sandwiches. EH

After Theory by Terry Eagleton (PENGUIN £7.99 (438pp))

Twenty years after the publication of Literary Theory, the passionate primer that changed the intellectual lives of a generation, Eagleton has written a sequel. Now, he argues, the age of theory is over. Students today "huddle diligently in libraries, at work on sensationalist subjects like vampirism and eye-gouging, cyborgs and porno movies", a trend he thinks is "politically catastrophic". After Theory charts, with characteristic lucidity and wit, the gains and losses of cultural theory and its refusal to engage with the big issues: not just political, but moral and metaphysical, too. Eagleton's passion is as exhilarating and energetic as it is rare. CP

Hello World by Sue Thomas (RAW NERVE BOOKS £12 (270pp))

This is a book about a love affair. It's also a meditation on a phenomenon that has changed not just our lives but our perceptions of ourselves. It is, of course, about cyberspace. "Just as Ada Lovelace and William Babbage designed a machine that could not yet be made, so we are sensing a world that cannot yet be expressed," says Thomas. She does, however, have a damn good go in this fascinating exploration of a world where word meets, and even replaces, flesh. CP

The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg (SCEPTRE £8.99 (354pp))

Bragg has twice told the tale of our tongue (alliteration, as so much else, comes from Old English). Yet this engrossing book deepens his "biography of a language". Those abroad who fear our mutant Saxon-Norse-French mongrel will treat it as a conquest yarn: first, over native Celts; then, over the planet. Bragg tells a happier story of meetings and assimilations. He closes with such internet-era words as "uber-nerd". You don't have to be one to enjoy this. BT