PAPERBACKS William Leith

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A restaurant in the middle of Paris. The diners: an American couple with their son, a Russian couple and two young French guys. The American boy wanders away from the table. The waiter takes him back. The American is full of fury. He smashes the waiter in the face. The waiter disappears, and everything goes back to normal. Or, rather, not normal. Humbert tells us about the lives of all these people: how the waiter, an African, stowed away on a cargo ship, how the Russian became an oligarch and how the American guy got a youthful injury.



Arthur Opp weighs 550lb and lives alone in a Brooklyn townhouse. He can’t even get up the stairs. Ever since his academic career ended, after he fell in love with one of his students, he’s locked himself away, eating for comfort. He’s pretty much killing himself, you think. Then he gets a call from the woman he fell in love with all that time ago. The author, Liz Moore, takes us into Arthur’s world brilliantly – she exposes his shame and self-hatred. And now he wants to get going again. But he’s too fat to clean his house.



Before Bradley Wiggins there was Lance Armstrong. Before Armstrong there was Eddy Merckx – possibly the greatest ever competitive cyclist – competitive being the key word. Merckx, a Belgian, raced in a new way – he relentlessly attacked the opposition and knew exactly what to do to tire the other cyclists. He was a true obsessive. He was at his peak in the late Sixties and early Seventies. His body began to lose its power when he was about 30. There was a famous doping scandal, but he might have been set up.

Sweet tooth

by Ian McEwan

(Vintage, £7.99) HHHH
Our heroine is Serena Frome; she’s a bishop’s daughter from East Anglia. She likes books and wants to study literature, but she’s mathematically minded and her mum pretty much forces her to go to Cambridge to study maths. At Cambridge she reads Solzhenitsyn, has an affair with a don, is groomed by MI5…and now we’re into a Cold War thriller: supremely tense, intellectually sharp, and honed as hell.