ET TU MASSIE
In the not so distant past, Allan Massie, man-ot-Ietters and novelist, published a colourtul account of the lives of the Caesars. Augustus was clearly his favourite, and though Massie recognised him as being fortunate to have poets of the genius of Virgil and Horace to sing his achievements, he added that ‘these achievements were genuinely worthy ol praise.’ ln Augustus (Bodley Head £9.95), his fifth and latest novel, he tleshes out that judgement, coming not to bury butto praise what he calls ‘a remarkable man.‘
But what is it that particularly lascinates Massie about Caesar? ‘He is one of the very few people I can think of - General de Gaulle is another— who were improved by power. Power generally has a bad effect on the character.’ Historically Augustus, the adopted son of Julius, has the reputation of a cold~blooded liquidator of his political enemies who managed, however, to hold Rome togetherwhen it threatened to succumb to Civil War. Massie purports to translate Augustus’s hitherto undiscovered autobiography which was trailed aeons ago by Suetonius. lt affords a sterling opportunity to set the record straight, but is it a whitewash?
‘It could be said he is whitewashed in some way because he is speaking in the lirst person. All autobiographies
. are sell-justifying, even when the
writer goes to some lengths to demonstrate his taults, to parade his vices. It’s all actually an expression of sell-love. You say, ‘These are my laults
i but Iookwhatatinetellowlam.’To
write a novel in the guise of an autobiography you are going to have a
at least has credibility. Before the scene shifts to sunny Tuscany the novel’s locus is that part of England which Stanley Bagshaw. the children’s strip cartoon character, dismisses as ‘up North where it’s boring and slow‘. Allotments. greyhounds. Radox baths and Ovaltine are the landmarks where to have apple strudel ‘on standby’ is regarded as Bohemian.
To this familiar milieu comes Hetty. dangerously mobile after the acquisition ofa Senior Citizen’s Gadabout pass and intent upon reuniting Frank Cross (foot fetishist, retired sewage work‘s foreman. and ‘What’s My Line‘?‘ reject) with the son be abandoned fifty years before. In the meantime Frank has wed bigamously ‘one of life‘s aunties’. Edith, Hetty’s best friend. and has made an art of pennypinching. Through luck on the gee-gees the couple sit. literally. on a nest-egg sewn into cushions.
Cook depicts unnecessary poverty with his customary compassion and humour. reserving his talent for farce for Hetty’s adventures as a private eye specialising in ‘missing
persons‘. Herinvestigations take her
to London. magnet to the displaced, where she encounters Chalky, a lonely Tobagoan; the tippling chiropodist, Phillida Meadowhite;
narrator who is not entirely reliable.’
Alan Massie’s view is thatAugustus was faced with the choice of ‘being absolutely ruthless, deceitful and treacherous or going under’. But he also emerges as compassionate, dutiful (duty-bound), loyal, tender and loving, particularly to his Sloane Ranger roué of a daughter, Julia, and his wife, the oft-abused Livie, who in the past has been charged with hastening her husband’s demise to allow the elevation of her son Tiberius. In so doing Massie has made a bold and unlashionable attempt to portray ‘a marriage that works’.
Augustus, clearly, is no slave to history, but a refreshing, contemporary novel, simultaneously intelligent and entertaining, by one of the few Scottish novelists of whom it is impossible to predict where he will turn next. (Alan Taylor)
and her co-partner. the spotty punk Geoffrey Shawcross.
All would be gifts to Alan Bennett’s camera as would the serve and volley dialogue. Cook is an acute and sympathetic observer of human foibles, with an ear well-tuned to irony and the double-entendre possibilities ofcliché. With Missing Persons the OAP novel comes ofage.
As in the above two novels there is an element of detection in C. K. Stead’s The Death ofthe Body but the quest here is cerebral, the quarry the ‘Story’ itself. Experiental novels are usually anathema to me but this is one with much to commend it, not least the author’s pellucid prose. The story the narrator zig-zags around Europe in pursuit of, involves Harry Butler, an Auckland philosophy professor, married to Claire, a would-be Sufi who when in a state of ‘not being’ is unable to prepare ‘one of her six principle vegetarian dishes for dinner.’ Harry consoles himself on his office floor with a compliant post-graduate. but his life begins to go awry when the Police Drug Squad move into his house to stalk his neighbours. First he is implicated because he is a close friend of a visitor to the house; later it emerges he had a ﬂing in Singapore with a woman who has moved in next door.
Then, there’s the Philosophy Department Woman’s Collective who are gunning for him for sexual harrassment. However. it is not Harry’s story which beguiles us most but the search for it, as the teller of the tale becomes more and more dependant on the wife ofa Danish diplomat for its advancement. Her interest. it is revealed. is due partly to a misunderstanding, a false identification of the narrator with Harry. I hope it does not spoil the suspense to reveal that the story-teller is never uncovered. Ultimately. we are left bemused but enchanted. engaged but distanced. The Death ofthe Body is a remarkable experiment. not the navel-gazing exercise so beloved by academic novelists but something new and admirable. a necessary, enjoyable evil. (Alan Taylor) BOOKER OFF Two Canadians. one a feminist the other a fugitive from the footlights, the biography of a blowsy brothel-keeper with a nouvelle cuisine lunchtime menu. a Hong Kong-born. punch-drunk scribe for Boxing News, a tetchy old man, and
(Chatto £9.95): Kingsley Amis The Old Devils (Hutchinson £9.95): Kazuo lshiguro An Artist of the Floating World (Faber £8.95). Already Ladbrokes and William Hill have offered odds based on the reaction of in-house readers more accustomed to studying form books
5 than contemplating novels. lfyou’re consideringinvesting withthese
altruistic organisations bear in mind that:
— ‘Bone’ has already been used in a Booker-winning title.
— A Japanese has never won the
Booker. — Japan is not in the Commonwealth. — A woman has won it before.
than the others.
— The M0 is longer than the others.
— A good big yin will always beat a good wee yin.
3 — Bailey was seen drinking brandy
a Japanese fortner Glaswegian social !
worker comprise the shortlisted candidates for the 1986 Booker Prize for fiction. You have until 22nd October to make you mind up on the following: Margaret Atwood A Handmaid's Tale (Cape £9.95); Robertson Davies What's Bred in the Bone (Viking £9.95); Paul Bailey Gabriel's Lament (Cape £9.95); Timothy Mo A Singular Possession
two years ago with one of the judges. —There are four women judges.
— Women back-scratch badly.
— The chairman is male.
« Amis is younger than Davies.
— Davies has a beard.
— Isiguro has a moustache.
— Atwood has neither.
Waterstone’s are holding a Booker Prize night out on 22 October when prejudiced and subjective speakers will air their views on the shortlist before the winner is announced on BBC2. It has the reputation ofbeing a vinous. irreverent evening. tickets for which are a triﬂing £2 and can be obtained from 114 George Street. Edinburgh (tel ()31 225 3436). (Clive Yellowjohn)
His partner, who wants to kill him, put his girlfriend in a prison that doesn’t exist, so he’d rescue a planet that didn’t want to be rescued.
When the story of the Coordinated Intelligence Apparatus’s secret mission to Earth was revealed, the government authorities of the planet Voltar denied that a planet like Earth could even exist. For those who suspect otherwise, read
‘The Invaders Plan’ and decide for yourself. . .
The Invaders Plan
by L. Ron Hubbard Volume | of ‘Mission Earth’
“0.95 Hardback At good bookshops everywhere New Era Publications (UK) Ltd., Tonbridge, Kent
C I906 by New Era Publlcatlom (UK) Ltd.
The List 3 — in October 39
—Thelshiguro is cheaperand shorter .