Books: Paperbacks

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Dogs Never Lie About Love by Jeffrey Masson (Vintage, pounds 6.99)

Formerly a psychoanalyst, Masson is obviously happier probing the doggy mind. What you make of these "reflections on the emotional world of dogs" will largely depend on your view of canines. Despite his emetic views ("the soul of the dog is love", "compassion - the essence of a dog's inner life") one reviewer described this work as "[not] even slightly soppy". Masson, who emerged as a controlling and litigious figure in Janet Malcolm's In the Freud Archives, quotes Freud's observation that "dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, unlike people... who mix love and hate in their object relations." That's why people are interesting and dogs aren't.

Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson (Black Swan, pounds 6.99)

Set in mock-Tudor suburbia, Kate Atkinson's exuberant second novel gets to grips with the dysfunctional Fairfaxes, and a family history that stretches back to a time when the forest floor was scattered with acorns, not purpose- built semis. As in her award-winning first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, unreliable mothers are at the root of everyone's troubles - in this case an Arpege-scented woman called Eliza, who abandons her domestic duties for some ghostly encounters in the woods.

Countess Dracula by Tony Thorne (Bloomsbury, pounds 6.99)

A rare example of arcane scholarship resulting in a popular (if grisly) read. The author explores the facinating story of Elisabeth Bathory, a Transylvanian contemporary of Shakespeare, who became known as "the blood countess" when the mutilated body of a young woman was found in her castle grounds. As Thorne notes, her servants were tortured using the same techniques that she was accused of. Though the countess was arrogant and dislikeable, Thorne makes a powerful case that she did not deserve her sadistic reputation. But it's too late - both a death-metal band and horror fanzine have taken the name "Bathory".

The King's English by Kingsley Amis (pounds 6.99)

Delineating the polar extremes of English usage as berks ("careless, coarse, crass") and wankers ("prissy, fussy, priggish"), Kingers sticks up for split infinitives and sentences ending in prepositions. The misuse of "enormity" and "jejune" gets his goat, but he nods through "albeit" and "pristine" (its real meaning of "original" overlaps with its new sense of "spotless"). He is sound on pronunciation - trait should be said as "trate", scallop as "skollop". But his quirks can be perplexing: is "fortnight" really "an obsolete term"? The only trouble with Amis's bluff, blokeish authority is that in demolishing pretension he leaves little room for irony.

Seven Moves by Carol Anshaw (Virago, pounds 6.99)

An everyday tale of hip urban dykes. Christine (a psychologist) and Taylor (a photographer) seem to have discovered the secret of wedded bliss: good jobs, plenty of Starbucks coffee in the fridge, and a shared fantasy involving Sigourney Weaver and some patchouli oil. So when Taylor disappears into thin air, Christine can't believe it's with another woman. It's part mystery, part love story, and American critic Carol Anshaw charts the pulse of a dying relationship with analytical zeal.

Myths and Legends of the World by Kenneth McLeish (Bloomsbury, pounds 18.99)

This mammoth trawl of gods and demons reveals humanity's endless dissatisfaction with dull reality. More than 4,000 years ago, Gilgamesh was up to no good in Mesopotamia, while Faust is an upstart, not yet 400 years old. We learn that Brit, who gave our country its name, was a refugee from the Trojan Wars and that Zosim was the onomatopoeically-named Slav god of bees. The Australian spirits called Mimi are oddly reminiscent of the current breed of supermodel: "They took the form of human figures so thin that they were afraid to come out in case they snapped like grass-stalks in the wind."

On Pilgrimage by Jennifer Lash (Bloomsbury, pounds 6.99)

Having raised seven children (including actor Ralph Fiennes) and moved house 15 times, Jennifer Lash needed some time on her own. A lapsed Catholic she embarked on a pilgrimage which took her across France and ended at the medieval shrine of Santiago de Compostela. Some very sane reflections on the spiritual life and the nuns who put her up en route, but best of all are the author's descriptions of sleepy French provincial towns, and the search for the perfect coffee. Lash died in 1993.

Spoken word

Given the two ripe cherries that landed in my lap this week, it's no surprise that the spoken-word industry has doubled its turnover in the past three years and is now half as big as the classical music industry. Graham Greene is a master of the telling phrase. His novella The Third Man (CSA, unabridged, c 3hrs, pounds 8.49) adds fascinating depth to the movie. Read by Martin Jarvis, who has a knack of becoming absorbed into the character he's reading, and punctuated by the Harry Lime theme.

Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane return in Jill Paton Walsh's completion of Dorothy L Sayers's story of their first months of marital life, Thrones, Dominations (Hodder, 3hrs, pounds 8.99). Who wrote what, we wonder, but the important thing is that Sayers was a consummate observer of human nature, not merely a manipulator of upper-class monocles.

Christina Hardyment

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