Paperbacks: The Position<br/> Pigtopia<br/> That We Might Never Meet Again<br/> Barcelona<br/> Happiness<br/> Hardboiled Hard Luck

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The Position By Meg Wolitzer (VINTAGE £6.99 (307pp))

At the heart of this summer page-turner lies the sex life of Long Island academics Roz and Paul Mellow, celebrated authors of a bestselling Seventies sex manual. Fulfilment it might mean for the lusty Mellows, but it's a lifelong burden for their four children, Holly, Michael, Dashiell and Claudia. The children first spot the offending volume squeezed between Watership Down and The Big Anthology of Golden Retrievers. "Once we've seen it," warns the eldest child, Holly, "then we can never unsee it". The book falls open at a tasteful line drawing of their parents sprawled across white sheets like some kind of "human grassland". Wolitzer traces the consequences of that day over the next three decades. It's a potentially skimpy construct, but saved by the fact that she is really writing about how children survive parents who seem to have appropriated everything - even good sex. The Mellow children, as you might expect, reach adulthood in various states of dysfunction. Funny and clever, Wolitzer's fiction is filled with ironic asides. Most crucially, she succeeds in writing about sex (even arousal in children) without embarrassing either herself or her readers. EH

Pigtopia by Kitty Fitzgerald (FABER £7.99 (280pp))

Jack Plum is a misshapen boy who has never been to school, but has built a secret "Pig Palace" under his mother's house. His pigs can play the xylophone, pray at a piggy shrine, and relieve themselves in a chemical lavatory. It's clear that Jack's relationship with his "piggylets", and growing friendship with lonely teenager Holly Lock, will be misunderstood by the "outsideworld human pigs". Fitzgerald's porcine patois is hard to master at first, but this linguistic tour de force grows wings and flies. EH

Mae West: It Ain't No Sin by Simon Louvish (FABER £9.99 (490pp))

Believe it or not, this is the life of a writer. The original American sex bomb, by 1934 the highest-paid woman in the land, worked tirelessly on quips, scripts, and her image as a "bejewelled beast" of wit and lust, from the Brooklyn dives of the 1910s to the TV studios of the 1960s. This lavishly sourced, lovingly written biography shows us Mae the conscious creator. The decades of outrage took their toll, from prosecutions to self-parody, but no one rode the blows better. She was never Snow White - but then she never drifted. BT

That We Might Never Meet Again by Philip Robinson (FABER £7.99 (197pp))

A former gardener, Robinson has set his debut novel in the ornamental quadrants of a remote country estate. Arriving to disturb the peace are jobbing London artists Michael and Lucia. As Michael busies himself with his brushes, Lucia gets over-friendly with the taciturn head gardener. The narrative bursts with lush landscapes and horticultural pleasures, but the characters remain wooden and unknowable in this ambiguous tale of rustic rutting. EH

Barcelona by Michael Eaude (FIVE LEAVES £9.99 (311pp))

Partly a jauntily erudite guide to the city, partly a sharply written history, Eaude's book excels at spiking his deft snapshots of squares, bars and sites with flavoursome fragments of Catalan lore and literature. Unlike other Barcelona boosters, Eaude knows how hard the road from Franco to freedom proved, and shows us the marks of that struggle. The city's candid friend, but no hype merchant, he is the kind of companion who even knows (say) that Plaça George Orwell was one of the first spots to have CCTV. So Big Brother is watching you - or was, till anarchists severed the cables. BT

Happiness by Daniel Nettle (OUP £6.99 (216pp))

The latest in a barrage of books on the subject of happiness, Daniel Nettle's little offering springs no great surprises. It offers instead a lucid and sensible survey of the latest research and of the besetting sins of a self-help culture. Marriage is good, and so, surprisingly, are boob jobs. CP

Hardboiled Hard Luck by Banana Yoshimoto (FABER £6.99 (149pp))

The female narrators of Yoshimoto's two delicate novellas are both in mourning. "Hardboiled" follows a young woman as she walks into a strange town on the anniversary of her ex-lover's death. In "Hard Luck", the narrator's sister lies in a coma. In hypnotically eerie prose, Yoshimoto's Zen-like meditations are tempered by a coolly urban sensibility. EH

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