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The Independent Culture
! A Working Mother by Agnes Owens, Abacus pounds 5.99. The mother of the title is Betty who decides to go out to work to get away from her out-of-control children and feckless husband, and to earn some much-needed money. Via Mrs Rossi's employment agency she ends up in a solicitor's office where her days soon revolve around listlessly sparring with her aged, lecherous employer and going out for greasy spoon lunches with a fellow secretary. Betty describes her life as "a vacuum of desperate nothingness" and the story is told appropriately in a kind of vacuum: Owens eschews explicit characterisation, and it only gradually become clear that the action takes place somewhere in Fifties Britain. It reads rather like early Alan Sillitoe, from a female perspective: well observed and bleakly comic.

! The Penguin Book of Infidelities, ed Stephen Brook, Penguin pounds 8.99. Luckily for the reader of this large tome, prominence is given not to the most famous infidelities, but to those which have been "well expressed". The arrangement is thematic - seduction, sex, gossip etc - which makes it easier to find what you are interested in and allows for some interesting comparisons across time and distance. An intrigued Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, writing to England from Venice in 1716, is surprised to find that " 'tis the establish'd custom for every Lady to have 2 Husbands, one that bears the Name and another that performs the Dutys". At the other extreme is the victim of infidelity, or the imagined victim in the case of Shakespeare's Leontes in The Winter's Tale, "his pond fish'd by his next neighbour". An entertaining collection about the pleasure and the pain of playing away from home.

! The Age of Consent by Geoffrey Wolff, Sceptre pounds 5.99. One summer's day in the "peaceable kingdom" of Blackberry Mountain in the New York Adirondacks, 15-year-old Maisie Jenks strips off her swimming costume and dives head first from a towering rocky outcrop into a shallow pool. Incredibly, she survives, and the rest of the novel follows her attempts to recover a fractured body and mind and find out exactly why she did what she did. Attention soon focuses on the charismatic Doc Halliday, family friend and idealistic founder of the Blackberry Mountain commune back in the Sixties, but in reality the whole hippy way of life is on trial. This is an acute dissection of generational change, but is sadly let down by creaking exposition and children whose dialogue and thoughts are curiously indistinguishable from those of the adults.

! Polanski by John Parker, Gollancz pounds 8.99. If Polanski's great films - Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown, Repulsion - are extraordinary and unsettling, his own life is far more so. The story starts in Krakov as the young "Romek" dodges Nazi forces and scurries like a scavening rat through the sewers while the rest of his family are carted off to concentration camps. A generation later, Polanski lives through another tragedy: the demented apostles of Charles Manson turn up at his Hollywood home and butcher his pregnant partner Sharon Tate and four others. Parker, an experienced biographer, writes with economy and restraint and covers all the points, personal and professional, although his subject ultimately remains elusive and contradictory.

! Somewhere East of Life by Brian Aldiss, Flamingo pounds 5.99. It is 21st- century Budapest and architectural historian Roy Burnell has just been robbed of the last ten years of his life by "brain bandits" who feed a huge black market in salaciously edited real life memories. Will our country- hopping hero manage to get his memory back? Will he finally sort out his tangled love life? And what kind of future does he have without a past? The best science fiction is much more than fad gadget and sixth-form fantasies, and one of the old masters of the genre has come up with a story alive with existential terrors. This is also the final volume of the Squire quartet, which charts one family's changing fortunes against a turbulent social and political background in the not-too-distant future.

! Surfing the Himalayas by Rama-Dr Frederick Lenz, Hodder pounds 7.99. This is apparently a cult novel in America and has been compared to Jonathan Livingstone Seagull and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a fact which will probably repel as many people as it attracts. Lenz's story concerns an unnamed young American who goes snowboarding in the Tibetan mountains and crashes into a Buddhist monk - none other than Master Fwap Sam-Dup, the last master of the Rae Chorze-Fwaz School of Tantric Mysticism and Buddhist Enlightenment who, over a period of time, proceeds to unlock the mysteries of the universe for his enthralled audience of one. Typical interchanges are the American asking Fwap how he knows what he is true and Fwap replying that it's because he's got a third eye and can see everything. The usual kooky nonsense for searchers after enlightenment.

! The Lost Summer, the Heyday of the West End Theatre by Charles Duff, Nick Hern Books pounds 12.99. Popular opinion has it that London commercial theatre was rescued from decades of drawing-room inanity by John Osborne and other Angry Young Men in the late Fifties. Duff sets out to prove the opposite view through an analysis of the work of actor/director/ producer Frith Banbury. Banbury's high point was in the Forties and Fifties, working with the likes of John Gielgud, Edith Evans and Ralph Richardson and bringing to the stage playwrights such as Terence Rattigan, Robert Bolt and the now largely forgotten Wynyard Brown and Rodney Ackland. This is a story probably of interest only to real theatre buffs, but Duff writes engagingly and seems to be supported in his thesis by the successful return to the stage over last year of works such as Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea and Ackland's Absolute Hell.

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