0 The Bridge Iain Banks (Pan £2.95) The enfanr terrible '5 third novel. a dazzling. multifaceted fantasy taking place inside the head ofa comatose accident victim. and chronicling his adventures in a society inhabiting what appears to be a colossal extension of the Forth Rail Bridge. stretched across an endless sea. Fans of Alasdair Gray should find themselves at home in Banks‘ universe.
0 Charleston: Past and Present Quentin Bell. Agelica Garnett. Henrietta Garnett and Richard Shone (Hogarth Press £5.95) More pickings from Bloomsbury in this ‘official‘ guide to the house formerly owned by artists Vanessa Bell (Virginia Woolf‘s sister) and Duncan Grant. Includes letters. honourable mentions and illustrations of the interior and the garden.
0 Everyman Derek Llewellyn-Jones (Oxford UP £3.95) Straight-talking demythologisation ofmales; a corrective to the policies of
Dworkin‘s Ravin Loony party. Published originally in 1981. the second edition has added sections on AIDS. Hepatitis B and obesity.
0 The Eye of the Story Eudora Welty (Virago £5.95) ‘Give him a cliché and he takes a mile.‘ This is one of America’s most distinguished novelists on one of its most brilliant humorists, SJ. Perelman. There are times in this thoughtful and sparkling collection of reviews and essays when she could be describing herself. Perelman's parody of Raymond Chandler. she says.
gets him ‘right between the private eyes‘; not a bad description of her critiques on Jane Austen. William Faulkner and herself.
oPersian Nights Diane Johnson ((‘hatto £111.95) ()n Page forty-five of this large book we are told. breathlessly. ofone character ‘1 ie was a feminist. He played the violin We are in Iran. the land of non-sequiturs. ()n page 123 we are told about this lran where not to be
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native means you are American: ‘here heads really do roll. so I guess that helps keep things serious' observes one of the non-natives. About a hundred pages later Chloe. the central American character. ‘did wonder how Muslim men were in bed‘. By page 227 she has found out and is being described by one of same as ‘a pear‘. Then when she has a resulting depression it is as if‘an Empedoclean weight (was) upon her ofdismay and embarrassment‘. l empathise.
All of this rubbish is densified with a potted history of the last days of the Shah. an awful lot of quotations from ()mar Khayyarn and Matthew Arnold. and some sex scenes that might make me extol celibacy if it was not for the fact I quite enjoy ‘it‘. To all the ‘real‘ characters who huddle in the sidelines there is a definite chance oflibel . . . 1 mean who wants to be considered pretentious in a pastiche by association with purple prose.
If there do be irony in this gush and by-blow book it did not emerge during my two readings. (Hayden Murphy)
0 Zeno Was Here Jan Mark (Jonathan (‘ape £10.95) There are books within books inside this one. and none of them are very interesting. Schoolteacherlohn McEvoy discovers hidden horrors in his past psyche in an autobiography written by a psychiatric patient who has been overshot by the Seventies and spouts and gushes like a Sixties fury. He shows it to his novelist friend Geneva Stephens and she is moved to plot a theme around his dilemma. but first she projects the unfortunate male on to her poet friend Ruth Prochak. 'l'hen McEvoy and Prochak accidentally meet on a train. They meet again. John and Ruth frolic. 'l‘he poet‘s ‘cxophthalmic‘ eyes pop and he argues with his desperately possessive wife. This sort of plotting is kept to a steady plod which is more than can be said for the prose. Flaming puce I would call it. Message: beware of overladen coincidences. (Hayden Murphy)
0 The Crack Sally Belfrage (Andre Deutsch £12.95) ‘See if there wasn‘t any troubles this would be the nicest place in the world.‘
‘War is just more fun than peace.‘
‘lt‘s a game. 'l‘here‘s certain rules you play and ifyou know the rules then you don‘t get hurt so often.‘
‘1 love here. so 1 do.‘
In a year ofvisits to Northern Ireland. Sally Belfrage has gathered the voices of its people. from radical Protestants and Long Kesh inmates to Sinn Feiners and the bitter bereaved. to produce one of the most illuminating and memorable acounts of life with war and paradox.
If you‘ve ever been confused byth difference between the UDA. ()UP. UVF and INLA. The (‘rack will set you straight. Unravelling the confusion that often tangles the situation. and defusing much of the fear. Belfrage gets under the skin of Northern lreland and concludes. not
too surprisingly. that war. for the time being. is there to stay. (Rosemary Goring)
0 Changeling (‘atherin Arnold (l-lodder & Stoughton. £9.95) Credible escapist literature for the intelligentsia is rare. but here we have it: a novel that skilfully treads the knife-edge between city-chic navel-gazing and Mills and Boon romanticism.
Academic. bolshie heroine Hero Abrahams is swept into a breathless marriage with upper-class Tom. a mysterious MOD (‘ivil Servant with an intriguineg high income. Abandoning some of her (‘ambridgc asceticisrn she settles down into the aristocatic mould. along with her Guardian values. as comfortably as; snake in a shoe. But within the year their marriage is clearly not all it should be and neither. in retrospect. is'l’om.
Blown to shreds by a car bomb. he leaves Hero numbed (and relieved). but determined to discover who was responsible. In the process she unearths more than she bargained for. including his side-line in heroin. and a drug-dizzy mistress whose frankness is not endearing.
Hero‘s subsequent - post-suicidal - quest to discover herself takes up the rest of the work. but less compellingy than it might. Meandering into psychology and ignoring its initial thriller clues. (‘hangeling gives a sense of having been tricked up a blind alley.
As a glimpse of young bereavement. it‘s sharp and well-observed. clearly written and occasionally poetic. though marred by some purple lapses. As a study of self-recognition. however. it‘s too shallow to be convincing. Nevertheless. this is a clever book. Upholding many fashionable eighties values of uncompromising individualism. it‘s very London. rather Yuppie. and bound to be a success. (Rosemary (ioring)
0 Spunk Zora Neale Hurston (Camden Press £4.95). First. dismiss any preconceptions drawn from that title about the subject matter of this book. Then read it. Hurston formed part of the 1920s‘ Harlem Renaissance. produced some gritty short stories. then concentrated on novels. This selection ofeight stories packs a muscley punch. Such swaggering characters as the titular Spunk challenge the awesome moral laws of humankind and provide fertile ground for fables: ‘ “But that‘s one thing Ah likes about Spunk Banks— he ain‘t skeered of nothin' on God‘s green footstool - nothin‘! He rides that log down at saw-mill jus’ like he struts ‘round wid another man's wife." ‘
Male arrogance struts through ‘Sweat’ too, as Sykes mocks and humiliates his wife Delia. but falls from glory in an unmitigated plummet like Spunk‘s.
Hurston’s tales are of human foibles and foolishness — and what becomes of those whose self-inflated images are pricked. The vigorous
40 The List 24 July — 6 August