Paperbacks: The Flood<br/>Field Study<br/>The Distance Between Us<br/>Heredity<br/>Homage to Eros<br/>The Alhambra<br/>Love, Sex and Tragedy

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The Independent Culture

Maggie Gee's new novel sees London about to be swept off the map by an unstoppable tsunami.

The Flood by Maggie Gee (SAQI £7.99 (325pp))

Maggie Gee's new novel sees London about to be swept off the map by an unstoppable tsunami. The rich have decamped to higher ground, the poor are hanging on in damp tower-blocks in the south and east. In the face of apocalypse, Londoners continue to worry about soft furnishings, further education and the price of opera tickets. This dystopian vision may be uncomfortably prescient, but, as always, Gee's gloomier forecasts are offset by the comedy of everyday life. Many of the characters here will be familiar from Gee's previous novels, Light Years (1985) and The White Family (2002). May White is now a widow and granny to mixed-race twins, Franklin and Winston; while Lottie Segall-Lucas, the novel's most compelling figure, still enjoys the pampered life of a fashionably-shod urbanite. Their two worlds collide when Lottie's son, Davey, starts to date Delorice, the twins' media-savvy aunt.

In this series of snapshots of the city's final days, London is at once familiar and unfamiliar. People travel by water-taxi and gondola, the government is at war with a distant Muslim nation, and feral foxes are on the prowl. An impressive satire in which Gee successfully navigates her way between the personal and political, the living and the dead. Touchingly, heaven turns out to be Kew Gardens on a summer's afternoon. EH

Field Study by Rachel Seiffert (VINTAGE £6.99 (250pp))

Rachel Seiffert's memorable debut, The Dark Room, was a series of novellas about German war guilt. Her second book, a collection of short stories, focuses its attention on small-scale encounters between parents and children, strangers and friends. Set in a series of unnamed European backwaters, Seiffert's stories are likeably austere in mood and place. The title story describes a scientist's abortive trip to test river water, and mishandling of a possible romance. In "Reach" a girl damaged by meningitis tries to win her mother's love. Short fiction suits Seiffert's economic style and gift for visual shorthand. EH

The Distance Between Us by Maggie O'Farrell (REVIEW £7.99 (372pp))

It's hard not to feel cheated by Maggie O'Farrell's fiction, which, for all its romantic promise and decorative interest, often leaves the reader in the lurch. Her first two novels, both about ghostly exes, showed her penchant for Rebecca-style gothic. Her latest work is a more grounded affair. Two intriguing narratives bring together the novel's lovers, Jake and Stella. Jake is from Hong Kong, but transplanted to England by an unlikely love affair. Stella has fled her job in London to work at a remote Scottish hotel. Parallel lives converge in the exotic East in O'Farrell's best romantic thriller to date. EH

Heredity by Jenny Davidson (SERPENT'S TAIL £8.99 (278pp))

Noirish, fast-talking and slightly pervy, Jenny Davidson's transatlantic fertility farce reads like Fay Weldon on a hormonally-charged high. The novel's moody heroine, New Yorker Elizabeth Mann, is in London researching a travel book. Within days of arriving she's had sex with her father's best friend, the bizarrely named, and slightly asthmatic, Gideon Streetcar. She wants a baby, but doesn't want to pass on her family genes. Her solution? To take DNA from the skeleton of 18th-century criminal, Jonathan Wild. A dark and fantastical novel about medical curiosities, curious Englishmen and in vitro love affairs. EH

Homage to Eros, Edited by Dannie Abse (ROBSON £8.99 (158pp))

If all that Hallmark hysteria on Monday got your goat, and you don't in any case like being told what to feel and when, perhaps you should pause - pause and return to the real McCoy. Here it is: 101 poems "of love and lust" by the Big Boys (Ovid, Sidney, Marvell, Shakespeare) and the odd girl, too. "In past centuries", as editor Dannie Abse unnecessarily points out, "declarations of love were generally a male preserve". And here they start with the Daddy of them all - God - and end with the dashing young Welsh poet, Owen Sheers. In between, there's a generous dollop of old favourites and not-so-young Turks. A post-Valentine peace offering, perhaps. CP

The Alhambra by Robert Irwin (PROFILE £8.99 (214pp))

It's a fairly ramshackle affair, inconsistent in style and uneven in restoration, with many treasures built from or carved into oddly tacky materials. Why, then, does the Alhambra - the "Red Fort" of Granada, mostly created by Nasrid sultans in the 14th century - cast such a spell? This expert, evocative study charts the growth of its Romantic aura. But the true magic, Irwin suggests, lies in the mystic messages set in its wood and stone. Just keep this book away from the Da Vinci Code crowd. BT

Love, Sex and Tragedy by Simon Goldhill (JOHN MURRAY £7.99 (335pp))

"Know thyself" commands the Delphi temple. This account of "why classics matters" briskly insists on our debt to ancient Greece and Rome for stories and ideas that shape modernity - about sex and the state; about drama, democracy and even sport. Goldhill (a professor at Cambridge) may be pushing at an open door, as pop antiquity now enjoys a high market price. Still, his sharp essays on significant sites (from the stage to the arena) excite, enlighten - and temper "relevance" with "otherness". BT

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