Paperbacks: Words of Mercury<br/>Parallel Lines<br/>Pyramids<br/>A History of Costume Design in the West<br/>The Diaries of A L Rowse<br/>Things to Do Indoors<br/>Trading up

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The Independent Culture

Anxious fans of Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986) will be relieved by his publisher's assurance that the third volume of his trilogy - about walking from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople on the eve of the Second World War - is on its way.

Words of Mercury by Patrick Leigh Fermor (MURRAY £7.99 (274pp))

Anxious fans of Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986) will be relieved by his publisher's assurance that the third volume of his trilogy - about walking from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople on the eve of the Second World War - is on its way. In the meantime (a familiar phrase to PLF devotees), this fine anthology, edited by Artemis Cooper, reminds us of the unique brilliance of Leigh Fermor's tardy masterpiece and introduces us to some lesser known fragments. The reason for his addictive appeal is compounded from amazing powers of recall, wonderfully detailed descriptions and a love of recondite knowledge that bears comparison with Borges. All are combined in dazzling prose that gallops across the pages. A fleeting encounter with an Austrian polymath in 1934 weaves together German landgraves, margraves and wildgraves, the Polish szlacta, Moldowallachian hospodars, the Khans of Krim Tartary, and the last Roman Emperor, the 16-year-old Romulus Augustulus. Elsewhere, we learn about Leigh Fermor's abduction of a German general and a voodoo ceremony in Curacao.This intoxicating book will make any armchair traveller feel like Ratty infected with wanderlust by the yarn-spinning sea rat in Wind in the Willows. CH

Parallel Lines by Ian Marchant (BLOOMSBURY £7.99 (308pp))

It seems that every other review copy I receive is a quirky account of a zany journey by a droll middle-aged man. This odyssey round Britain's railways fits the bill exactly, but stands out for its wit and keen observation. Marchant notes, for example, that the map of attractions at Mill Hill East includes the gas works. Disillusioned by both the yobs and the jobsworths he encounters, Marchant insists: "What we need is a non-Euclidean railway... more pretty, charming and downright old fashioned nice." It is all summed up by Paul Williams' photo of a delightful old sign for "Crossing Gates", worth the cover price alone. CH

Pyramids by Joyce Tyldesley (PENGUIN £8.99 (262pp))

"All the Great Pyramid does is stand between you and the sun, like a mindless giant with his thumbs locked in his hip-pockets, saying, 'OK?'" wrote Jonathan Raban in his book Arabia. Surprisingly, the first encounter of Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley was equally uninspiring: "The heavy stone slabs seemed to press down on the constant stream of visitors... no calm and certainly no feeling of awe." But her growing familiarity with these great icons of the afterlife brought "increasing respect, even love." In her absorbing account of their sophisticated design and logistics, Tyldesley stresses that pyramids were more about mathematics than magic. CH

A History of Costume Design in the West by François Boucher (THAMES & HUDSON £29.95 (459pp))

No Westwood, no McQueen, no Galliano. Vogue-reading Fashionistas will pout because this volume screeches to a halt in 1983, squashing the previous 13 years into two pages. First published in 1966 and half-heartedly updated, it is nevertheless still packed with interest for the serious student of costume design. We learn that Egyptian women painted their nails, the Christian church pinched the bridal veil from the Romans and 17th-century Frenchwomen wore masks held in place by a button gripped in the teeth. CH

The Diaries of A L Rowse by A L Rowse (PENGUIN £10.99 (462pp))

A L Rowse emerges as a strange mixture of sensitivity, particularly concerning landscapes, and bitchy vituperation. His descriptions of architecture, such as Sterne's Yorkshire church, are the equal of Pevsner, but as the decades pass, his misanthropy runs rampant. The literary gossip is entertaining - Harold Nicolson appears "undamaged by falling into his moat - such an unsocialist thing to do". He rails against fellow academics ("weaklings") for not publishing more, but the endlessly productive Rowse is scarcely read today. This assiduous, revealing record will outlive the rest of his oeuvre. CH

Things to Do Indoors by Sheena Joughin (BLACK SWAN £6.99 (299pp))

At first sight, this debut looks slight. Boho waitress Chrissie drifts through 1980s west London with fraying eternal-student types, breaks up with bloke, takes crisis trips to Lisbon, Dublin, Brighton, suffers sister trouble, gets pregnant, raises baby. Been there, done that, bought the Calpol, readers might think. But there's real edge, bite and wit in Joughin's fat-free prose. "Life is full of accidental violence": mostly mental, Chrissie finds. Like chick-lit darkly rewritten during a bad vodka hangover. BT

Trading up by Candace Bushnell (ABACUS £6.99 (548pp))

Candace Bushnell's third novel tells the tale of Janey Wilcox, a lingerie model on the make. After years of exchanging sex ("with short, paunchy, bald men with hair in their ears") for summers in the Hamptons, she finds a man who's sufficiently rich, and inoffensive, to become her husband. Now she wants a movie career. If Bushnell's study in self-delusion is a touch baggy, it's also hugely entertaining - and littered with the astute observations that have become her trademark. CP

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