Paperbacks: The Haven Home for Delinquent Girls<br></br>Victorine<br></br>The Space Between<br></br>Fascination<br></br>Margot Fonteyn<br></br>My Ear at His Heart<br></br>This Blinding Absence of Light

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The Independent Culture

Alex, the optimistic heroine of Louise Tondeur's second novel likes to dress up in her boss's trousers and dreams of kissing Julia Adams, star of the sequel to The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Fantasy becomes reality when an older woman, a customer at the bakery where Alex works, steals a kiss over the macaroons. This is 1959, and the English seaside village of Eade is familiar with girl-on-girl romance. Packed off to a home for troubled young women, the eponymous "Haven", Alex joins a group of other teen transgressives: unmarried mothers-to-be, runaways and shoplifters. Here, under the sadistic supervision of Mrs Brown, the girls are re-educated in the true ways of femininity and the Lord. In a novel that combines seaside camp and high gothic, Tondeur links the romantic histories of past residents with Alex's crush on fellow-inmate Rachel. The narrative includes a Victorian suicide, and a touching love story between Edwardian mothers-to-be. Tondeur's portrait of female camaraderie is a tender one: kisses, cakes and library books are all it takes to nourish a growing girl. The last section, which brings us up to the present, finds the Haven reinvented as a cookery school. Progress, Tondeur seems to say, on a plate. EH

Victorine, by Catherine Texier (PENGUIN £7.99 (324pp))

Catherine Texier is best known for a memoir detailing the breakdown of her 18-year marriage. Here, she reaches back into family history with a novelisation of her great-grandmother's romantic history. Victorine Texier, a respectable young mother from the Vendée, western France, scandalises locals when she runs off to Indochina with a customs officer. She returns two years later, and the incident is never again mentioned. Lovingly grounded in domestic detail - no good meal goes unmentioned - Texier's bodice-ripper reveals as much about French provincial life as the tortured state of great-grandmother's soul. EH

The Space Between, by Rachel Billington (ORION £6.99 (316pp))

Alice Lightfoot doesn't let being a widow, or indeed being a granny, get in the way of her newly re-animated love life. Half the male population of London seems to be beating a path to her door, including fellow journalist Guy Vernon; Sir Brendan Costa, a bluff tycoon; and Jonathan, her husband's best friend. Yet Billington's amiable and action-packed romance grows teeth when Alice interviews (and sleeps with) a rugged deep-sea diver, who promptly goes missing off the Cornish coast. A cliff-hanging finale lands our heroine squarely in the arms of Mr Right. And there are no prizes for guessing who he might be. EH

Fascination, by William Boyd (PENGUIN £7.99 (209pp))

William Boyd's latest collection of short fiction includes elegant class acts alongside more playful works. The story "Lunch", for instance, written as a series of restaurant menus and reviews, contains in its gastronomic detail the unravelling of a marriage and a career. Fascination's opening tale, "Adult Video" uses the jargon of electronic technology to freeze-frame the moment a bitter young Oxford academic determines the future tone of his rashly-entered married life. And "The Woman on the Beach", an adulterous tale set in out-of-season Cape Cod, shows just how much visual punch a short story can pack. EH

Margot Fonteyn, by Meredith Daneman (PENGUIN £8.99 (654pp))

The confused South Bank Show on Britain's ultimate ballerina will have left many baffled viewers yearning for a balanced portrait. Daneman supplies it, in a meticulous yet richly readable biography. The creation of a global icon out of Peggy Hookham of Reigate (and Shanghai) took all the "iron discipline" that dance demands, and Daneman bows to her subject in a narrative long on fine, telling detail and free of lazy balletomanic gush. Both Fonteyn (with cancer, in Panama) and her autumnal soulmate Nureyev (with Aids, in Paris) ended in a pose of majestic denial, a fate which somehow chimes with the age- and time-defying magic of their weightless genius. BT

My Ear at His Heart, by Hanif Kureishi (FABER £7.99 (242pp))

Nimble, witty but tugged by tides of deep feeling, Kureishi's art conceals art. His acute tragicomedies of mixed-up English life always boast both grace and gravity. This moving memoir of his father's thwarted literary career, and his own happier but still troubled writing life, shows a serious creator in a tenderly elegiac mood. Piquant proof of the failure of success, and the success of failure, from a Chekhov of suburbia. BT

This Blinding Absence of Light, by Tahar Ben Jelloun (PENGUIN £7.99 (195pp))

Ben Jelloun wrought this harrowing but deeply humane "faction" out of evidence taken from one of the Moroccan soldiers thrown into a vile subterranean desert jail after a failed coup in 1971 - and left to rot. As despair and (horrible) death seized one inmate after another, Salim pushed at and beyond "the limits of resistance" to maintain a grip on life - and sanity. One of the greatest prison novels of our age. BT

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