Paperbacks: The Rules of Engagement<br></br>The Boy Who Taught the Beekeeper to Read<br></br>How to Breathe Underwater<br></br>Millennium People<br></br>New Selected Poems 1968-94<br></br>Travelling with Djinns<br></br>Cornwall: a history

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The Independent Culture

The Rules of Engagement by Anita Brookner (PENGUIN £7.99 (247pp))

Just like one of her heroines, Anita Brookner is often over-looked in favour of her flashier peers. Appearances, however, are misleading. Her fiction, surrounded by an aura of Peter Jones-like respectability, is anything but: the comforting peregrinations around Sloane Square only acting as a demure backdrop to some scalpel-sharp analysis of life's rawer emotions and desires. Brookner's 22nd novel follows the lives of two friends who come of age on the cusp of the Sixties. Elizabeth, the novel's narrator, sees herself as a born pragmatist. Married to a much older man, she slips into a seemly routine of shopping, cooking and afternoon walks. Best friend Betsy moves to Paris, and falls in love with a communist, who dies young and in suitably dramatic fashion. Through an entirely plausible chain of events, both women end up having an affair with Edmund, a good-looking married man in their immediate circle. A self-interested lover, he plays by his own set of rules, and ends up harming everyone around him. Brookner eloquently explores the checks and balances that underpin her characters' relationships. When Elizabeth is depressed, she can't read 19th-century fiction: that a virtuous life will be rewarded seems as unlikely to her as the unfettered promises of free love. EH

The Boy Who Taught the Beekeeper to Read by Susan Hill (VINTAGE £6.99 (216pp))

Susan Hill's latest collection is reminiscent of the kind of short stories you were encouraged to read at school. Set in country-house gardens and suburban cul de sacs, these vignettes capture the quieter reaches of human suffering. The title story recalls a long hot summer in which a young boy befriends an illiterate beekeeper on his aunt's rambling estate. The boy teaches the old man to read and write, but later rejects their friendship. Well written and atmospheric, but not the kind of story that whets the appetite for more. EH

How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer (VIKING £10.99 (224pp))

The nine stories in this enjoyable debut collection mostly concern teenagers forced to relinquish their navel-gazing too soon. The opening story, "Pilgrims", describes a visit to an alternative "healing" commune by a mother (in the last stages of cancer) and her young family. While the sickly grownups rest upstairs, a child falls from a hippie tree house. In another story a mother's slow fading is witnessed by her daughter, who decides to shape her decline into a woodsie collage of hazel nuts and pumpkin seeds. Fans of Lorrie Moore and Melissa Banks will feel right at home. EH

Millennium People by J G Ballard (HARPER PERENNIAL £7.99 (294pp))

The middle classes revolt in JG Ballard's latest mind-bender, but do a good job of clearing up afterwards. Based in Chelsea Marina, the members of this gated community - under the influence of a charismatic paediatrician - decide to overthrow the burdens of civic responsibility by blowing up Heathrow airport. David Markham, a psychologist whose ex-wife is killed in the explosion, infiltrates the group as a police spy. Ballard does a great job at subverting a familiar urban landscape, bringing Molotov cocktails to the South Bank. EH

New Selected Poems 1968-94 by Paul Muldoon (FABER & FABER £9.99 (183pp))

Anyone who thinks that poetry is the new rock'n'roll clearly hasn't read Paul Muldoon. Which is not to say that he isn't wonderful, just that at times his work verges on the parodically obscure. It's often barking mad, too: an extraordinary blend of wit, wordplay and surreal stories, shot through with his fiercely idiosyncratic brand of intelligence. The clever boys love it, of course: the endless opportunities to pit their wits - and literary knowledge - against the Master. The less erudite, like me, are sometimes baffled and sometimes blown away by a startling image of breathtaking beauty. CP

Travelling with Djinns by Jamal Mahjoub (VINTAGE £6.99 (346pp))

A pacey road novel, with father and son en route from Denmark to Spain; an Anglo-Arab saga of exile and loss; and an essay-like excursion into the plight of migrants for whom, as for narrator Yasin, Europe is their "dark continent". In his fifth novel, Jamal Mahjoub delivers all this and more. Sometimes the pressure of experience behind his ambitious book risks an emotional blow-out. But sharp insight and moving family drama keep it on the right track. BT

Cornwall: a history by Philip Payton (CORNWALL EDITIONS £9.99 (326pp))

Culture-vulture holidaymakers to Umbria or Catalonia will often read up on the past of their modish destination. Now that Fowey, Padstow or St Ives count as high-style locations, the same sort of visitor should take along Payton's expert, readable history of England's only Celtic county. It covers the landmarks with assurance - the language, the folklore, the sea, the mines, the rebels, the emigrants, the incomers. And he gives a cogent explanation of why Cornish identity thrives. BT

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