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The Essence of the Thing by Madeleine St John, Fourth Estate pounds 6.99. Love and longing in Notting Hill are the concerns of this expat Australian's third novel. And as Notting Hill is her manor, this is a knowing and sly evocation. The plot is simple: Nicola goes out to buy a packet of fags, comes back to her live-in lover who, out of the blue, asks her to move out. "Whatever was wrong was deeper and more secret an affair than she could have guessed. It lay in the very heart of their lives, it lay in them, it lay, for all one knew, in their actual souls: if souls they possessed." St John pitches her book perfectly for the urban, middle-class market: angst-ridden but softly spoken thirtysomethings navel- gaze while making tough career and relationship choices. Whether she's mocking or commiserating, this is still the stuff of traditional romantic women's fiction.

Continental Drifts: Travels in the New Europe by Nicholas Fraser, Vintage pounds 7.99. The author, a commissioning editor for Channel 4 and the BBC, and grandson of a well-read Parisienne, is a sophisticated and witty guide to Europe as it approaches the millennium and unification. He starts the grand tour in the building sites of Berlin where he meets Sir Norman Foster contemplating his latest "ticklish assignment": the design of a new German eagle to preside over the Reichstag. As a symbol of power, it is almost too potent, so Foster sketches out a more "friendly, born- again eagle", which will, it's hoped, banish unwelcome memories. This spirit of compromise is found wherever our roving cosmopolitan goes, and he brings back illuminating snapshots of French philosophers, Belgian bureaucrats and "post-everything" Londoners, all busy staking their claims in the new frontiers of Euroland.

Lesbianism Made Easy by Helen Eisenbach, Virago pounds 6.99. Novelist, dramatist and professional lesbian Eisenbach promises to throw open the secret compartments of sapphic joy in her guide to picking up married women and choosing and naming a pet. Traditional names that lesbians have bestowed upon their four-legged friends, such as Alice B Toklas, Gertrude, Queenie and Sappho, hark back to the days of "secret parties, code names, and matchmaking through furtive arrangements by well-meaning bow-tied friends." Whereas more contemporary, up-front pets - Uma, Martina and Pansy - suggest "people think I'm a hot fuck". Extremely witty, Eisenbach's updated Rules bring a much-needed gaiety to the dating game.

Altered State: The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House by Matthew Collin and John Godfrey, Serpent's Tail pounds 6.99. The combination of drugs, strobe lights and pounding bass lines in a warehouse in Manchester in the late 1980s set off a decade of vibrant youth culture, the effects of which are stil reverberating throughout music, government policy and public and private lives. As former editors of i-D magazine and habitues of the rave scene, Collin and Godfrey know the score, but are not befuddled by it. This is an astute, objective and knowledgeable analysis of the social history of a drug culture; of a leisure industry under threat and the commodification of the subversion that Ecstasy represents. But not only are the breweries reeling from the effects of this influential youth movement, Tony Blair found it necessary to adopt an Ecstasy anthem as the musical signature of his election campaign. The authors show that the story of Acid House is crucial to the social history of this century, and present a compelling narrative that takes in the "death by a thousand cuts" of Leah Betts - sorting the hysteria from the facts - and go back to Techno's origins in Detroit and Chicago, where music was made with the technology that had already destroyed those cities' industries. Meanwhile, "thousands danced in blissed-out ignorance".

The Adventures of Dougal by Eric Thompson, illus David Barnett, Bloomsbury pounds 5.99. Melvyn Bragg and Roy Hattersley both cite Dougal, Brian, Ermintrude and Zebedee as seminal influences on their lives. Conspiracy theorists might seek out the subliminal messages but the characters who appeared in the worlds' first psychedelic TV programme, The Magic Roundabout, were part of every household's tea-time ritual. Eric Thompson was a Playschool presenter when he was sent a French children's cartoon to develop for the BBC. He turned down the sound and invented the characters' names, stories and voices; the rest is TV history. We also meet less familiar characters in these stories that Thompson wrote in the 1970s, Dougal's mad Scottish uncle Hamish, and George the magic-carpet driver who used to work on the buses. Enchantingly illustrated and delightfully inconsequential, Dougal's adventures are witty exercises in the ridiculous.

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