Paperbacks: The Uninvited <br/>The Cranford Chronicles <br/>Grievance <br/>St Pancras Station<br/> A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear <br/>Pagan Resurrection <br/>The Tiger That Isn't

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The Independent Culture

The Uninvited, by Geling Yan (Faber £7.99)

Geling Yan's sly satire – her first in English – is a toothsome indictment of modern China and its newly-hatched infatuation with spin and PR. The novel's fallible hero, Dan Dong, makes his living as a "banquet bug". Posing as a journalist, this unemployed factory worker turns up at corporate events to enjoy the free canapés. Hosted by Beijing's capitalists, these banquets are part of a burgeoning network of corruption – promoting everything from ersatz medicine to new-build housing schemes.

Before he knows it, Dong has ingested the new world order, along with several helpings of sea-horse sorbet. At one meal he is befriended by a famous artist who mistakes his companion's pained silence for a sign of critical gravitas. Not long after, Dong is offered a writing job by a slinky woman reporter, who tries to extort information via foot massages.

Contrasted with Dong's epicurean adventures is his ascetic home-life with Plum – a sweet-natured village girl who embodies the values of a previous era. At weekends the couple exists on tinned sardines, during the week, Dong sups at "porn banquets", licking appetizers off the bodies of semi-chilled sex workers. In earlier works, Yan has written critically of her country's Maoist past. Here the menu is more sophisticated, but not everyone gets a place at the feast. EH

The Cranford Chronicles, by Elizabeth Gaskell (Vintage £6.99)

Elizabeth Gaskell's affectionately observed portrayal of an 1840s market town, handsomely re-issued as part of the Vintage Classics series, will strike a chord with contemporary readers – who will no doubt be seduced by the author's appreciation not only of human psychology, but of chintz and interior decor. Book one, Mr Harrison's Confessions, opens in the autumn with the arrival of the eponymous doctor – a young medic whose revolutionary methods set female hearts aflutter. For anyone who still hasn't had enough Gaskell, a five-part BBC dramatisation of the novel airs this November. EH

Grievance, by Marguerite Alexander (HarperPerennial £7.99)

Marguerite Alexander's debut is a traditional campus novel with a non-academic twist. Its tenured lothario is middle-aged lecturer Steven Woolf. With his high media profile on the wane – he's a specialist in Irish literature – he seeks solace in the company of Nora Doyle, an enigmatic student with Celtic roots. A shrewd novel, but it's weighted down by discursive and diligent asides on the dual themes of Irish Lit and contemporary politics. Nora's secret proves to be decidedly more personal than political. The chapters covering her childhood in Ballypierce – caring for a brother with Down's Syndrome – bring this studied text to life. EH

St Pancras Station, by Simon Bradley (Profile £8.99)

With Scott's Gothic station and Barlow's titanic train-shed about to be reborn via Eurostar, this witty contribution to Profile's "Wonders of the World" series brings a light touch to a heavy pair of monuments. From the installation of early lifts to the delivery of the Melton Mowbray pork pie (an "unwitting creation of the Midland Railway"), Bradley explains the making and meaning of St Pancras with a verve that captures all "the romance of Victorian modernity". Unlike other architectural authors, he also sounds almost as excited by the station's future as its past. Take him along on that swift trip to Paris. BT

A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear, by Atiq Rahimi (Vintage £6.99)

In 1979, the year the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, a young student, Farhad, wakes in an unfamiliar house after surviving an unprovoked attack by Soviet soldiers. In his disorientated state he starts to remember his past, including stories from the Koran told by his grandfather. Mahnaz, who has taken him in, is also hiding her torture-damaged brother from the authorities. This nightmarish, episodic novel (translated by Sarah Maguire and Yama Yari) plays confusing narrative tricks, but is unflinching direct about the grim actuality of finding yourself looking down the wrong end of a Kalashnikov. EH

Pagan Resurrection, by Richard Rudgley (Arrow £9.99)

While written by a bona fide telly historian, this is far from being a cuddly look at Pagans drinking mead at the Winter Solstice. Instead, Rudgley examines Paganism's evil influences on Nazism and beyond in this "biography of a god". While he goes on to offer a more optimistic view and there are some lovely pictures of runes, nobody gets away with the "more popular than Jesus" line. Not even Odin. KG

The Tiger That Isn't, by Michael Blastland & Andrew Dilnot (Profile £12.99)

Books on the abuse of statistics abound, but Blastland and Dilnot keep their world of numbers personal and practical. Chapter after chapter shows how figures – from league-tables to health risks and "average" incomes – may deceive, and how we can decipher them. If this reader-friendly primer could disentangle the mean, the median and the mode in the public mind, it might even cause a social revolution. BT

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