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The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, Bloomsbury pounds 15.99. A bold and resonant first novel, this lament for small-town America is narrated by a ghoulish 'we', a chorus of adolescent boys attempting, many years later, to come to terms with their fixation on the five Lisbon sisters who killed themselves in the innocent days before riots and pollution. Mad Cecilia went first, spiking herself on the railings with 'the sound of a watermelon breaking open'. As detail piles on detail - from the taste of the boys' burps to the 12 Tampax boxes in the Lisbon family bathroom - the novel's central emptiness becomes its point. Jennifer Potter

Kicking Tomorrow by Daniel Richler, Picador pounds 5.99. Droll coming-of-age novel, a cross between Catcher in the Rye and Douglas Coupland's Generation X. It's 1978, punk is in full swing, and Robbie Bookbinder, dreaming of leading his own megadecibel ravers, the Hell's Yells, has filled the Coke dispenser in his parents' Montreal basement with a battery of drugs. Far from hustling his way out of the ghetto

Duddy Kravitz-style (as you might expect, given the author is the son of Mordecai Richler), this upper-middle- class puppy is urgently downward mobile. Two spiky-haired chicks serve as sherpas, one a surly heroin-popping batik artist who burns down her school, the other a spacy stripper with, yes, a heart of gold. A rich, anti-parental, pharmaceutical farce. Rowland Morgan

The Man in the Tower by Michael Kruger, trs Leslie Willson, Quartet pounds 13.95. A German artist retires to a French tower to paint the countryside, translate Dante, and fulminate against the flabbiness of the art world and of pre-unification German society: he is only noticeably successful in the last of these objectives. An art-collecting sausage-manufacturer from the Saarland provides a welcome relief from a supporting cast of French locals, other artists, and people who may or may not be gangsters. But the promised drama fails to materialise: you spend the whole novel waiting for something to happen. The messy structure is the writer's own, but the occasional burst of confused language appears to be over- literalism on the part of the translator (no relation of mine). Leslie Wilson

Saving Agnes by Rachel Cusk, Macmillan pounds 14.99. Agnes is disturbed and baffled by the world. A conventional middle-class upbringing and university education have failed to equip her with the mechanism that makes sense of humanity's hidden agenda. She stumbles through her job and various relationships, demonstrating wit but scant wisdom. The gradually widening crack in the wall of her living room mirrors her growing alienation from normal human intercourse. A deft and funny first novel, marred only by some confusingly fragmented chronology and a rather facile ending. Penelope Stokes

I Think We Should Go into the Jungle by Barbara Anderson, Secker pounds 8.99. A dozen stories by the author of Girls High, which irradiate with humour and clarity a world of tract houses,

public schools and the hearty bromides of New Zealand life. Anderson achieves much of her purpose through swift dialogue and the bold etching of personality - effects so apparently simple and forthright that the complications of feeling which arise seem to do so unbidden. Some of her sentences can be relished in isolation, like patches of fine brushwork. Hugh Barnes

A Spanish Lover by Joanna Trollope, Bloomsbury pounds 14.99. Bossy, busy Lizzie, with her large family and her small business, pities her twin, Frances, who lacks both husband and children. When Frances embarks on a doomed affair, Lizzie is driven into a frenzy of patronising concern, heightened by the crumbling of her business. Twinship and hardship are the declared themes, but the subtext is a celebration of middle- class self-confidence. Strength lies with matriarchs like Lizzie, who dominate their menfolk; even the recession strikes no more than a glancing blow at this family, whose assorted crises are resolved with miraculous simultaneity in the last few pages. Penelope Stokes

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