LADIES’ LUNCH AND OTHER STORIES by Lore Segal (Sort Of Books £9.99, 160pp)


by Lore Segal (Sort Of Books £9.99, 160pp) 

Originally published in the New Yorker, but recently tweaked by 95-year-old author Segal, the deft, delicious short stories that make up the first part of this collection follow the lives of a group of long-standing friends who live in New York but who hail from California, Co. Mayo, Tehran, Vienna and the Bronx. 

The tales recall old adventures with famous artists (in Ruth, Frank And Dario) and show how the friends lose touch (How Lotte Lost Bette), physically falter (Sans Teeth, Sans Taste) or find themselves angry, alone and in an assisted living facility that they actively hate and long to escape from (Ladies’ Lunch). 

Elsewhere there are perfectly pitched memoirist musings, and the standout Making Good, where Viennese Jews and the Austrian descendants of Nazis seek a rapprochement at the behest of a guitar-playing rabbi.

OLD BABES IN THE WOOD: STORIES by Margaret Atwood (Chatto £22, 272pp)


by Margaret Atwood (Chatto £22, 272pp)

The 15 stories in this collection from the stellar Margaret Atwood are book-ended by the touching, tender, grief-tinged tales of Tig and Nell, a loving couple with a lovely life and a collective past, and the sombre present where Nell is widowed and wondering what to do with all their shared, fragile history. The middle section of the book is a miscellany of speculative fiction and odd incidents, including a conversation with deceased George Orwell (The Dead Interview); a very funny close encounter with a tentacled alien entertaining human survivors of an apocalypse (Impatient Griselda); and the frankly weird Metempsychosis, where a snail takes over the soul of a woman. 

THE PRIVATE LIVES OF SPIES by Alexander McCall Smith (Abacus £16.99, 224pp)


by Alexander McCall Smith (Abacus £16.99, 224pp) 

These five tales, according to McCall Smith, ‘are part fiction and non-fiction’. Based on extensive research and with a fine grip on the slippery nature of the world of espionage, these underhand dealings range from ­Algeria in 1924 to a modern-day clerical cabal in the Vatican. Delightfully old-fashioned and prudent of prose, McCall Smith unspools his tales. 

There’s a reluctant German spy who parachutes into East Anglia disguised as a nun and finds sanctuary in a convent for ‘fallen women’, run by the wily, well-informed Mother (Nuns And Spies); a splenetic Scottish farmer who unsuccessfully signs up to be a Soviet agent (Ferry Timetable); and a real Soviet spy, Donald Maclean, who deceives the British Ambassador to Moscow — who himself has an unlikely Russian valet (Donald And Yevgeni). 

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