The Orlando Trilogy, by Isabel Colegate (Virago, £7.99 in UK)

 

This elegant trilogy is so thoroughly steeped in the period in which it is set - it opens in the 1930s and closes a quarter of a century later - that it is difficult to believe it was written much later, with the first novel, Orlando King, appearing in 1968. Colegate's instinctive feel for the values and obsessions of the upper echelons of English, society is heightened by the ironic distance she inserts between herself and her conservative yet eccentric cast of characters, the end result has the unstoppable momentum of an upper crust potboiler.