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Rosemary Goring talks to doctor-tumeo-writer John Collee and Jenni Alien reviews the year’s best Scottish books.
Ofﬁcially The Stories oi Muriel snark (Bodley Head £12.95) is the Scottish book of the year and in choosing it the judges of the Royal Bank/Saltire Society award have reclaimed for the nation one of the finest living writers. Most of these stories have been published before but it is good to have them in one place. There is the added bonus of two stories which surfaced just recently in the New Yorker.
At one time Mrs Spark shared an office at the New Yorker with the poet and translator of Borges and Neruda, Alasdair Reid. Whereahouts (Canongate £9.95) brings together pieces published in that institution on the theme of place. Reid is an itinerant — presently he is the New Yorker’s Central American editor — though he was born and raised in Scotland, and his pieces are dispatches from states of mind. They display the clear thinking of a lifelong fan of Heart of Midlothian RC.
Ian Jack, too, is a journalist but he has never had the luxury of doing ‘understanding‘ wife and his two
children. As his life crumbles around
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without a deadline. You would never guess from reading Before the 0" Han Out (Secker £9.95). It consists mainly of articles he wrote for the Sunday Times - before Wapping - and has been supplemented with a long introductory, autobiographical essay in which he looks at his relationship with his father. It is a model piece, emotional without being mawkish, and unashamedly literary. Jack is about the best journalist writing in Britain today and his book is the perfect present for those with a sub to Sunday Sport.
David Craig’s Native Stones (Secker £10.95) is sub-titled ‘A Book about Climbing’ but that is a modest disclaimer. Climbing does figure predominantly but the there’s much more to it than going up and down slabs of rock just because they happen to be there. Craig is a poet, eclectic in his reading, and Native Stones embodies his philosophy and looks movingly at his relationship with his children.
This has been a sparkling year for the Scottish novel. I liked Allan Massie’s Augustus (Bodley Head £9.95) which offered an interpretation of the Roman emperor denied by Robert Graves. Iain Crichton Smith’s account of a middle-aged man’s mental
breakdown, In the Middle oi the Wood (Gollancz £9.95) makes painful reading but it is ultimately an optimistic ﬁction and one artfully constructed. So too is Ron Butlin’s The Sound of my Voice (Canongate £7.95). Written in the second person, it points the ﬁnger at an alcoholic biscuit executive living in stale suburbia with an
him he tries to come to terms with his problem. If only he had been prescribed Butlin’s novel. Esoedair Street (Macmillan £10.95) is Iain Banks’s second book this year. It revolves round Danny Weir, onetime bassist and lyricist with Frozen Gold, who by the time Weir holes up in a folly in the centre of Glasgow have disbanded, indeed two of the group have prematurely gatecrashed the Great Disco In The Sky. Weir replays his life, from the slums of Paisley’s Ferguslie Park to the top of the album charts. It is much better than it sounds.
Weird’s territory would be recognisable to many of the characters who populate James Kelman’s stories in Greyhound tor Breaktast(Secker £10.95). The props from earlier books - Not Hot While The Giro, The Buseonduotor Hines, A Chancer— are still on stage and while some of the stories are no more than anecdotes, the very best, including the title story, are as good as you will find anywhere.
Finally poetry, the most subjective of all reading matter. One Atom To
I Another(Polygon £4.95) by Brian
McCabe , Bough Sea: (Canongate £4.95) by Tom Pow, The Way We Live (Bloodaxe £4.95) by Kathleen Jamie, and In the Kihhle Palace (Bloodaxe £5.95) by Stewart Conn all use language in a way which I ﬁnd sympathetic and very appealing. (Jenni Allan)
Alastair Mahoott on rock books.
0 The Rock Yearbook ed Ian Cranna (Virgin £8.99). You may well wonder why on earth you should want such a thing as a rock yearbook, since it’s a breed that hardly seems to have progressed at all since, say, the 1974 Fab 208 Annual. Should you still decide that a book of that nature would be worth having around to dip into then this is the one. For a change this is a book which has been compiled by intelligent and capable writers, who realise that writing for a youth market doesn’t mean talking down or re-wn’ting press releases. The Rock Yearbook is frequently witty and drily irreverent - both in its text and in the choice of snippets of reviews to ﬁll up the ‘Albums of the year’ section. There’s the usual reference-only stuff - the year’s
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The List 27 Nov - 10 Dec 1987 49