o The Five Great Novels of James M. Cain James M. Cain (Picador £4.95) ()ne was born great (The Postman xtltt'ays Rings Twice). another has achieved greatness (Double Indemnity) and three have had greatness thrust upon them
( Serenade. Mildred Pierce and The Butterfly). Cain is an alumnus of Chandler College who graduated
' without metaphor but got a
distinction for style.
0 The Magic Wheel: An anthology of
5 fishing in Literature Edited by David
Profumo and Graham Swift (Picador
£4.95) A celebration of things
piscatorial. ideal for the armchair angler. Arranged chronologically it casts off with Homer and is reeled in by David James Duncan. Most ofthe
inevitableliterary big fish
(Hemingway. Melville. Hughes. Jeffries. Hudson etc) are caught in the editors‘ expansive net but surely
Neil Gunn and Mark Twain (to name 5 but two) shouldn‘t have been allowed to wriggle off the line.
0 Woman of Letters: A Life of Virginia
Woolf Phyllis Rose (Pandora £3.95)
Yet another biography of the high priestess of. in Erica Jong's felicitous phrase. the head-in-the-oven school ofwomen writers. Overly emphasising the autobiographical element in Woolf’s fiction. it assumes that the reader is well-versed in the subject. insightful aphorisrns abound: ‘l.ike everyone else. . . Virginia Woolfwas unlike everyone else‘. No kidding?
o The First Hundred Thousand lan Hay ; (Richard Drew£3.95) Unfashionablyenthusiastic response : to the outbreak ofWWl: Dad's
A rmy rather than Apocalypse Now.
0 0n LibeﬂyJohn Stuart Mill (Penguin £2.50) Set text for all
freedom fighters buttressed by a
0 The Glamour Christopher Priest (Abacus £2.95) Memorable novel of an amnesic news photogrpher‘s struggle to regain his past
' complicated by the reappearance of
his ‘glamorous‘ girlfriend.
o A Sense of Survival Kevin Casey (Wolfhound Press £3.95) Suspenseful page-turner set among European exiles in Tangier.
O Bumi Alan Coren (Sphere £1.75)
; Punch-bred revelations sparked off ' by press reports. Kafka does signing
sessions at Foyles and avoids
commiting wogan (‘a form of
murder‘) but the most inspired is
j triggered by the retiral of the Naurgiad’s Head Proof Reader—
‘Just a snog at midnight‘. Not first Corenthians but the best.
3 o The Novels oi Friedrich Diirrenmatt % Friedrich Diirrenmatt (Picador
£3.95) Better known as a playwright
Diirrenmatt shows here why his
fiction cannot be ignored. Four are
punctuate Jessie Kesson‘s euphonious prose. intrusively reﬂecting the writer‘s own lyricism. As in her previous books the stories in this new collection bear witness to a childhood spent in a church-going. radio-riveted community which those familiar with Another Time. Another Place will recognise as the North-East of Scotland. that bleak. windswept. treeless quagmire.
where the furrows seem to run off
It‘s a breeding ground fora hard. stoical people who live daily with the wrath of God and God is
omnipresent in all these stories. if
‘ only through the inﬂuential language - ofthe KingJames Bible. Kesson.
like Grassic Gibbon. has an acute car for the rhythms and cadences of
north east speech but to me her
1 nearest literay neighbour is Lorna
Moon. an acerbic observer of the
~ parochial world. Jessie Kesson's acid is diluted by her willingness to laugh
at people‘s foibles and petty
prejudices and like Lorna Moon she
' advantage. Gossip propels the - y" 4;,
is forever turning the cliched phrase ofthe kitchen gossip to her plot
in most of the stories in Where the
' disturbing talesof detection. the fifth ; a sparkling. wicked comedy.
2 REVIEWS ,
7 o Where the Apple Ripens Jessie
Kesson (Chatto & Windus £8.95)
o The Adventures of Speedfall John Fuller (The Salamander Press £9.95)
Snatches of songs and hymns
‘ — THE HARD SALE
Sceptics will dispute it, but we can reveal that it was the National Book Sale, (due to run at most bookshops, but not at Waterstone’s, from 18 January- 2 February) which was in Dr Johnson's mind when he described booksellers as “generous, liberal-minded men'.
One Edinburgh bookseller—a generous, liberal-minded woman- told The List thatthe sale was a great opportunity torthe reading public to till its shelves with waste paper and the booksellers to clear space for the 30,000 or so titles due to appear in 1986. Another, speaking with the enthusiasm of an EEC agronomist, said it was ‘a cabbage patch’ and that, of the many titbits on offer, he would go for joke books (sic), odd volumes out and re-hashed biographies of the Old Masters. He made a special plea to bargain hunters not to queue overnight, though he admitted that no-one in
44 The List 10 - 23 January
living memory had ever done so. There was general agreement that the Sale has been much diluted in recent times by the proliferation ol remainder shops, and there was support iorthe disbandmentot the Net
Apple Ripens though perhaps less so
j in the fineandlengthytitle-pieee. lt ; is characteristically Kesson: the story
ofa young girl. Isabel Emslie. on the
: threshhold ofwomanhood and a new life. It‘s her last day at school and
after the weekend she will leave the village and go into domestic service in the town. Subtly the significance of the change is developed. the loss of innocence. the promise of independence. lsabel feels this change within herself. willing it to come but at the same time apprehensive. Like a threat hanging
over her there is the funeral ofHelen Mavor. who has died in illegitimate
childbirth. For she and her family are
‘ incomers. ‘pan loaf‘ their brogue.
Book Agreementwhich ensures that the f
cover price on a book cannot be undercut. (Alan Taylor)
nattin dressed and sufficiently sophisticated and well-heeled for Helen to wear shoes to school. Yet she has ‘fallen’. quite how is never
5 explained but her visits to the ‘town‘ had something to do with it. Despite
3 the warnings of her mother Isabel
insists on taking milk to Alex Ewan. a bachelor with a reputation for randiness. half-hoping to forfeit her
Isabel wanders through ‘Where the Apple Ripens‘ in half-realised confusion. aware yet unaware of the reality ofthe tawdry world she is about to confront. Characters in other stories seem to be in a similar dwalm-like state. individuals cowering from reality in their dreams or memories. often dealt cruel
blows. like the Gowk. in the story of the same name. who is committed to an institution for a rape he didn’t commit.
Kesson‘s world is no bucolic paradise and yet she writes of it with real affection. I suppose Jon Fuller feels a similar love for the Oxford College he uses as a backdrop to the ludicrous adventures of Speedfall. a hyperactive. officious philosOpy don (surely a contradiction in terms) who is as engagineg feckless as Lawrence Durrell's Antrobus. His improbable antics are related with relish and considerable style by Fuller. eliciting chuckles rather than uninhibited laughter. ‘The Mongolian Gambit Declined‘ is a typical example of how Speedfall‘s best intentions go awry. in which the don rustles up a college chess team to face a party of visiting Mongols. Too much drink is consumed and the match degenerates into a Bacchanalian romp which has more in common with Genghis Khan that Anatoly Karpov. The late news that they were. in fact. gymnasts leaves Speedfall unmollified. All the other stories are no less amusing. fizzy jeu d‘esprits all. hardly compulsive reading and slightly disappointing after the enigmatic brilliance of Flying to Nowhere. (Alan Taylor)
0 Out of Denmark- lsak Dinesen, Karen Blixen 1885:1985 and Danish Women Writers Today (Danish Cultural Institute £7.50)
Out of Denmark and into obscurity threatens to be the fate ofthe writers discussed in this disappointing collection of rambling essays. loosely based on the theme ofidentity. This chosen theme is the only possible excuse for the banal quality ofsome personal details included. for example Bodil Wamberg on Suzanne Brogger ‘. . .outward appearance at least is something she has on her side: she is tall and exceptionally beautiful — and she knows how to emphasise these qualities to the uttermost limit.‘ (sic) Who said the Scandinavians were forward thinking? Idiotic comments do little to recommend anyone. and the mealy-mouthed and naive speculation is often ridiculous: ‘When Karen Blixen . . . professed that she was 3000 years old. then probably it is a linguistic short form . . .‘ Do these essayists consider their readers to be retarded?
Had we been given a sample of each writer‘s work. instead ofa token handful of uninspiring poems. perhaps a fraction of this haphazard information might have meant something, but as the book stands (apart from the fetching photos) it does nothing to promote interest in its subjects. and should have been left inside the dyke. Still. like Danish kitchenware. it looks nice. (Dilys Rose).
0 The Place of Nursery Rhymes in the Scottish Renaissance 27 George Square. By William and Norah Montgomerie. Organised by the Scottish Association for the Speaking of Verse (SASV).