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Alan Taylor selects ten best reads in fiction this year.

passengers fall lovesick under the keyhole gaze of Valentine Beals. A circumlocutory farce dense with allusion and style.

0 The Old Devils Kingsley Amis

(l lutchinson £9.95) A bibulous tale ofthe Welsh in retirement rich in ‘hours with nothing to stay sober for'. Enter Alan Weaver returning home from the Beeb to rake over old loves and replenish empty glasses. A funny. moving. angry portrait ofa country in the doldrums and a generation in retreat. Bad company for teetotallers.

o A Taste for Death PD. James (Faber (£9.95) Poet-detective Adatn Dalgliesh. elevated to Commander. investigates the throat-cutting ofSir Paul Berowne MP in a church vestry.

O A Perfect Spy John Le (‘arre (Hodder and Stoughton £9.95) Magus Pym goes AWOL and pens a last. long. reflective letter to his son telling of how he became a spy and of his relationship with his father. Rick. Dickensian in scope and wit. mercilessly mannered and self-indulgent. this is le (‘arre's best to date and Pym his most endearing character since Smiley first alighted. Unquoted in the Booker stakes due to altruism.

o The Fisher King Anthony Powell (Heinemann £9.95) A maverick. crutch-bearing photographer. ‘sexually hors de combat‘ boards the Alecto with the delectable Barberina Rockwood fora votage round Britain. On the high seas other

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Alan Taylor finds Scottish books to fill your stocking.

It has never been easier to buy books in Scotland. New bookshops proliferate. more are trumpeted. particularly in the Dear Green Place where Hatchards have hatched and many keep ‘uncivilised‘ hours. In Edinburgh. Waterstone‘s and the Edinburgh Bookshop burn the candle at both ends of George Street. the former during the

Edinburgh Festival closing just before it turned into a pumpkin. For the biblioholic with even less time to dry out. this is bad news. Even window-shopping. that innocent and inexpensive pastime. is threated with extinction as Sunday strollers are lured inside by seductive classical strings and the Pisa towers of

new books.



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with the aid of his new female assistant Kate Miskin. ‘It would be nice just to be on the shortlist‘. said PD. of the Booker Prize. She didn‘t make it but this is her best yet and it's never been absent from the bestseller lists since it was published. 0 The Killioy Ann Fine (Bantam £8.95) A chilling confession of requited nastiness. Laidlaw, a hideously-scarred politics lecturer. interrupts his cosy routine for a spot ofSM with a compliant student. An unforgettable blood-curdler.

0 Lake Wobegon Days Garrison Keillor (Faber £9.95) Mid-West America recalled in the droll accent of its most eloquent spokesman. This is the printed version of Keillor‘s weekly radio monologue and though we miss his timing we can marvel at his eye for detail (‘Most men wear their belts low here. there being so many outstanding bellies. some big enough to have names of their own and be formally introduced‘.) and his sublimely comic vision. Justly compared to Twain.

0 Roger's Version John Updike (Andre’ Deutsch £9.95) Full-frontal fiction from the silver-tongqu New Yorker under the pretext of an enquiry into the existence ofGod. ()D's on Latin and computer jargon but for persistent panners there are diamonds as big as the Ritz.

Plotting a course through the mountain ofprint can be as difficult as extricating oneself from the Hazlehead maze. and much more costly. So where to begin? Perhaps with A Century of the Scottish People (Collins £15.00), T. C. Smout‘s popular. provocative and eloquently written look at the working classes between 1830—1950. Dependingon political prejudice. its initial reception was either rapturous or rancourous but no one could put it down. The same could be said of

.L . .


Alastair Scott Alastair Scott‘s Scot Free (John Murray £10.95). the first ofthree books retracing a five-year 194,000 mile odyssey which took the kiltcd humorist round the world and back



o Gabriel's Lament Paul Bailey (Jonathan Cape £9.95) Despite being given a kitchen ‘8. Coffier‘ would drool over Amy Harvey runs off and leaves Gabriel to his foul-mouthed father Oswald. This is a father-and-son story. compelling as a thriller and with all the compassion and comedy ofBailey‘s shorter. earlier novels. Had he not translated the action latterly to the US it

would have been irresistible for

the Booker.

0 A Storm lrom Paradise Stuart Hood (Carcanet (£9.95) Appointed headmaster of Slateford‘s three-teacher school. John Scott tussles with tradition and the tattie-howkin' holidays. but finds consolation and challenge in his attachment to the emancipated. free-thinking Elizavyeta de Pass. Ostensibly Scottish. intrinsically compassionate and intelligent.

0 Augustus Allan Massie (Bodley Head £9.95) Massie ‘translates' the long-lost memoirs of the Emperor Augustus resuscitating the reputation of the man who held Rome together when Civil War threatened. A compelling picture. a la Yourcenar (rather than Graves). of the Ancient World and the most satisfactory novel yet from Scotland’s most diversely talented


again. Sm! Free covers the first two years in which he zig-zagged like a loser‘s counter at Snakes And Ladders between Iceland and New Mexico. Incidents abound. some hilarious. as when he received the ‘Sourtoe (‘ertificate' in a modern Malamute saloon for quaffing a cocktail which eschews ice in favour ofa ‘putrid brown-green tow‘: some hairy. as he slips almost to grief in the Faroes; all are told with a storyteller‘s relish and the sequels are eagerly anticipated.

James Hunter and (‘ailean McLean had less far to travel for their book Skye: The Island (Mainstream £10.95). a splendid documentary in words and pictures which is no tourist soft-soap. Hunter. the director ofthe newly-established Scottish (‘rofters‘ Union. argues eloquently fora contemporary and sensible solution to the problems ofdepopulation. deprivation and unemployment and takes heart from various enlightened schemes implemented by modern landowners. and in the struggle of Sabhal Mor Ostaig. the Gaelic College. to protect the people‘s culture and language.

This is a theme Robert Alan


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44 The List 28 Nov 11 Dec