Paperbacks: The Wife<br></br>Love<br></br>A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali<br></br>The Pleasure of My Company<br></br>The Good Women of China<br></br>Pieces of My Mind<br></br>Citizens

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The Independent Culture

The Wife by Meg Wolitzer (VINTAGE £6.99 (219pp))

There have been many novels written about how women put their lives on hold for men. Wolitzer's funny, angry book takes the premise one step further, by writing about what happens when you marry a man the rest of the world adores. As the book opens, Joe and Joan Castleman are on a plane to Finland, where Joe is to accept a glamorous literary prize. In his mid-sixties, Joe has finally won himself a place at the table of A-list American writers. As celebrated in literary circles as Roth and Updike, he has a reputation for writing well about women, or, as his best friend puts it: "You're 50 per cent prick, 50 per cent pussy." The story of the Castlemans' marriage is told in a series of flashbacks, from their early days in Greenwich Village (Joe was Joan's English professor), through to Seventies summer camps in Vermont, and up to the present day - which still finds Joe chasing young women, drinking like a 25-year-old and ignoring his children. Joan, after a lifetime "stoking the fires" of Joe's reputation, finally decides to resign from her position of nurturing wife. The extent of her supportiveness only becoming clear in the novel's last chapters. Like an unruly Alison Lurie, Wolitzer does a wonderful job of satirising the East Coast intelligentsia, while gleefully taking the lid off marriage, sexual politics and the creative ego. EH

Love by Toni Morrison (VINTAGE £6.99 (202pp))

As you might expect from the august pen of Morrison, here is plenty of blood, guts and passion (not to mention arson, rape and sadomasochism). The novel opens in a prosperous, wintry neighbourhood. A teenage girl has applied for a secretarial job, and finds herself in a large house inhabited by two old women: an arthritic invalid, and her hard-faced servant. Both women are squabbling over the inheritance of the late Bill Cosey, a rich, black hotelier. One is them is Cosey's widow, the other his granddaughter. Morrison is at her best writing about the mean-spirited, and here she has plenty of scope. EH

A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali by Gil Courtemanche trans Patricia Claxton (CANONGATE £7.99 (258pp))

Courtemanche, a journalist from Quebec, wasn't in Rwanda in 1994 during the massacre, but spent time there in 1992 to make a documentary on Aids. His first novel, peopled by "real characters", recreates the genocide through the eyes of a world-weary middle-aged Canadian journalist. Bernard Valcourt arrives in Kigali just before the fighting. He pitches up at an international hotel and falls in love with a waitress called Gentille, a Hutu who looks like a Tutsi. The love story is less effective than the author's unwavering determination to capture what genocide really looks like. EH

The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin (PHOENIX £6.99 (163pp))

The hero of Martin's second novel is exactly the kind of character that might be dreamt up by Hollywood: a user-friendly loony (afraid of roadside curbs and dirt), but sensitive, and good-looking enough to get the girls. Daniel lives in an immaculate apartment in Santa Monica and spends his time fantasising about the women in his immediate circle: a checkout girl at Rite Aid; a sexy real-estate agent; and a "student shrink". In other hands, this scenario could turn sinister. Here, it's just a string of entertaining, Martin-style riffs about a retarded man trying to get a date. EH

The Good Women of China by Xinran (VINTAGE £6.99 (230pp))

When Xinran invited women to call in to her radio show with their stories, she had no idea what she would unleash. The resulting book is, she says, "my testimony to the lives of Chinese women". These are stories to make you gasp and weep: the young girl abused by her father who keeps a pet fly and dies from self-harm; the woman who works on a rubbish tip in order to catch glimpses of her wealthy son; and, most disturbing of all, the women of Shouting Hill, domestic and sex slaves, whose only reward in life is a bowl of egg with sugar when they produce a son. They were, says Xinran, the only women "to tell me they were happy". CP

Pieces of My Mind by Frank Kermode (PENGUIN £16.99 (467pp))

If you know of anyone due to start a literature course, make sure they have this superb selection of essays, over 45 years, by the finest living British critic. This is how to do it. With fathomless erudition, sly wit and near-Socratic modesty, Kermode moves from the idea of secrecy in narrative to fine reviews of Amis or McEwan, by way of Conrad, the idea of a "classic", the history of criticism and a brilliant piece on Joyce's "Man in the Mackintosh". An essential buy for students, but why is it so dear? BT

Citizens by Simon Schama (PENGUIN £15.99 (826pp))

Now in a new edition, 15 years after it first appeared, this heart-stirring, blood-chilling chronicle of the French Revolution still looks a crucial landmark in the renovation of narrative-led history. Following his mentors Cobb and Plumb, Schama focuses all his storytelling genius on people and plot - chaps and mishaps. And he angrily counts the human cost of an upheaval that, for so many, led only to the grave. In 1989, as the Berlin Wall tottered, Schama also did his bit to end dogmatism. BT

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