Things Your Mother Never Told You, By Olivia Lichtenstein

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Never walk with a hot drink in your hand; never leave the house without lipstick and mascara; never throw away a good man: these are just some of the maternal mantras percolating in Ros Bloch's head a year on from her mother Lilian's unexpected death. Ros also has other worries on her mind, including the end of her marriage, two sons on the brink of leaving home and, at 45, the prospect of "her own inevitable descent from her prime".

Sharing much in common with her feisty debut, Mrs Zhivago of Queen's Park, Lichtenstein's second novel is a touching and frank satire of a middle-aged woman on the brink. Experimenting with Internet dating, naked yoga and most rashly of all, intimate hair dye, Ros, a West London teacher, is anxious to re-establish herself in the world.

Despite her best efforts, however, consolation doesn't come in a man-shaped package, but a letter, forwarded by a family friend. Ros is sent a copy of her mother's posthumous diaries that throw new light on Lilian's South Africa childhood and involvement with the fledgling ANC. She starts to revise her opinion of her demanding "semi-Jewish" mother, while not entirely forgiving her: "Just because a relationship is complicated, doesn't mean you don't mourn it when it's gone."

A witty, fluent writer, Lichtenstein deftly moves between mother and daughter, Cape Town and Shepherd's Bush. This of-the-moment comedy puts the world to rights in the way good popular fiction can.

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