Books to pack

28th August 1998 at 01:00
I would read Michele Roberts's shopping lists if she published them, especially as a crate of red wine and a fine French cheese would be must-haves. Food, Sex and God (Virago Pounds 9.99) is her shopping list of replies to the perennial "what do you write about?" question and also the title of a collection of essays, reviews and articles "on inspiration and writing". One piece, "On Writing a Novel", started life as a TES Masterclass. There's not so much food, but plenty of sex and God, in Roberts's latest novel Impossible Saints (Virago Pounds 6.99). This is the tender tale of Josephine, the most unlikely nun since Julie Andrews and of other young women who find sainthood under men's rules impossible.

While Michele Roberts's heroines revel in abundance, John Lanchester's malevolent gourmet in The Debt to Pleasure (Picador Pounds 5.99) picks his way prissily through a menu of delicacies garnished with bitter herbs and sour grapes. The obnoxious Tarquin is a delight, even if he tempts you to get a coffee stain on the book, and this is a diverting tale of the perils of not looking after the digestion. I once had a hand in publishing a Christmas pudding recipe without the last sentence - "steam for four hours" - and probably don't need to be told.

It's probably too late in the summer break to start on Underworld by Don DeLillo (Picador Pounds 18), a sweeping state-of-America novel which needs to be read at least half an inch at a time. While waiting for DeLillo's doorstopper to appear in paperback, try his less ominous tome Mao II (Vintage Pounds 6.99). Or you might squeeze in American Pastoral by Philip Roth (Vintage Pounds 6.99). This is the seventh novel to feature Roth's diehard narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, and may well be the ailing Zuckerman's last appearance.

The turmoil as the Sixties met post-war complacency head-on is reflected in the life of Zuckerman's high-school hero, a second-generation Jew nicknamed The Swede because of his hunky blond looks, who finds that marrying Miss New Jersey and building up the family firm is not enough to ward off anarchy and despair.

Did you spend part of your holiday escorting the school party from hell? It could have been worse. The Sopranos in Alan Warner's raucous novel (Jonathan Cape Pounds 9.99) want to grow up to be Morvern Callar, the rave queen in Warner's first novel. When Orla, Kylah, Fionnuala, Manda and Chell hit Edinburgh for a choral competition, uniforms are exchanged for bits of Lycra, and zambucca fire-eating contests take precedence over singing for the school. There's hidden depths to Warner's women, even this bunch of foul-mouthed Scary Spices. Just be grateful they're not on your minibus.

Geraldine Brennan is books editor of 'The TES'

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