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The Independent Culture
The Happy Isles of Oceania by Paul Theroux, Penguin pounds 5.99. 'My wife and I separated on a winter day in London . . . both miserable, because it seemed as though our marriage was over.' As the novel-like opening suggests, this paddle though the Pacific islands by kayak is also concerned with the smaller localities of heart and soul. A strange mix of inner torments, postcard platitudes and bad-tempered observations on the locals.

Sugar and Spice: Sexuality and Adolescent Girls by Sue Lees, Penguin pounds 6.99. 'If a girl sleeps with two different people she's considered a slag, but if a boy does it's good. It really annoys me.' Interviews and discussions inform this much-needed study of the social and sexual relations of adolescent boys and girls: critical insights into a critical period of life.

The French Foreign Legion by Douglas Porch, Papermac pounds 14.99. Beyond the various myths (hell-raising Beau Geste legionnaire or sub-criminal fugitive), Porch traces the complete history of this unique and mysterious force. A vigorous narrative; very detailed: best for buffs.

Sodomies in Elevenpoint by Aldo Busi, trs Stuart Hood, Faber pounds 6.99. Lashings of buggery and philosophy, yet this enfant terrible of Italian fiction remains oddly inoffensive as he takes us on a personal journey around North Africa and into the soul. He may shock but he will never bore; his prose is reminiscent of the quirky brilliance of Tom Robbins.

Night Geometry and the Garscadden Trains by A L Kennedy, Phoenix pounds 4.99. Prize-winning first collection of 15 stories: small incidents in small-time lives described with touching and troubling honesty. A woman loves her man for the way he runs, a child explodes into her parents' room yelling 'I can read] I can read]', a girl berates her father for teaching her to hate, a woman visits a library but forgets why. Another claims that 'increasingly . . . only tiny patches in my life are at all important . . . images, moments.'

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