I South Riding Winifred Holtby (Virago £3.95) Reissue of municipal classic; perhaps the only novel ever to have been structured round local government departments.
I Watt and Mercier and Camier Samuel Beckett (Picador £2.95 & £3.95) How to do nothing beautifully.
I Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool Peter Turner (Penguin £2.95) Sad but funny story of the demise of the tart with a heart who mixed drinks for Lee Marvin in The Big Heal and won an Oscar for her part in The Bad and the Beautiful. The contents contradict the title.
I Torquemada Benito Perez Galdos (Deutsch £8.95) First English translation ofthe 19th century Spanish classic. Four wonderful novels in one plump volume.
I Caitlin: A Warring Absence Caitlin Thomas with George Tremlett (Pavanne £3.95) Portrait of the Welsh piss-artist.
I Another Day at Life Ryszard Kapuscinski (Picador £3.50) Courageous and compelling eyewitness account of the last days of Portugese rule in Angola and the internecine struggle for power.
I Life in the Tomb Stratis Myrivilis (Quartet £5.95) Anti-heroic World War One Greek novel.
I The Faber Book oi Australian Short Stories Edited by Murray Bail (Faber £5.95) With contributions from Christina Stead. Patrick White. Elizabeth Jolley. Shirley Hazard. David Malouf and Peter Carey show that the Aussies are not far behind the Canadians in terms ofquality over the short distance.
I Next Season Michael Blakemore (Faber £4.95) Theatricals in the provinces where not all the companions are good. Rings good and true.
I Between the Woods and Water Patrick Leigh Fermor (Penguin £3.95) Sequel to A Time ofGifts. the first of three projected books recreating a journey across Europe before Hitler played havoc with travel arrangements. As good as its predecessor. Expect the final instalment circa 2010.
I Frozen in Time: The Fate ol the Franklin Expedition Owen Beattie and John Geiger (Bloomsbury £12.95) In 18-15 Sir John Franklin and 129 crewmen set out to ‘penetrate the icy fastnesses of the north. and to circumnavigate America.‘ No one returned. Dr Owen Beattie set out in 1981 to discover what happened to them and uncovered a gruesome story of death from starvation. scurvy and lead poisoning. and desperate attempts to survive by cannibalism. But his most remarkable finds were the bodies of three sailors astonishingly well~preserved in the permafrost. Riveting reading: nauseating
IAlI Ouiet 0n the Western Front Erich Maria Remarque (Picador £2.95) Classic anti-war novel reissued in swanky new series.
Author of Lake Wobegon Days. Garrison Keillor. has been heaped with praise for his latest short stories. Alan Taylor met the wry writer.
Faber‘s offices overlook a London square in which every second establishment seems to be a hospital. How appropriate. I thought. fora publisher. No matter who you are or what you‘ve got they can have it seen to just a few doors away. Homeopathic. children‘s. there‘s even one for Italians. Mamma Mia!. what do Italians catch that’s peculiar to them“? Lambruscosis'.’ I decided not to mention this to Garrison Keillor who once wished he had been christened Keillorini so that his father could jump up and down at the dinner-table screaming. ‘Hey! I'm a sicka this stuffa!’ From where l was standing— a storey or two beneath him — he looked as glum as a Scicilian widow and any hospital talk might have reduced him to hysteria. Instead we talked about palindromes. don‘t ask me why. But it cheered him up and he even tried out a smile when an American woman nudged her way into the conversation. ‘Lidoffa Daffodil’. was her opening gambit. I caught myselfjust before I said. ‘Pleased to meet you‘. for you never know when you might come across the one and only. Mr Keillor smiled again. as if tolerating a lunatic. and one ofthose horrible silences loomed. ‘It's a
palindrome'. she explained. and we laughed with relief.
Like everyone who is introduced to him she told him how much his stories meant to her and launched into an account of one of her favourite incidents from Lake Wobegon Days. the multi-million bestseller which finally put hickdom on the map. Seconds later I found . myselfdoing the same thing. telling him the one about the chicken that gets its head chopped off and makes a belated dash for freedom until it comes up against Mrs Mueller's unfortunate dial which stops the poor thing dead in its tracks.
Someone had told him it before but he heard me out. Garrison Keiller is a patient man and. for a Shy rights activist. not as backward at coming forward as everyone makes out. True. his voice doesn‘t boom. and he leaves gaps between words through which you could drive a combine harvester. but he is affable. forebearing rather than relishing the numerous interviews cruel fate has pushed his way since he found fame and fortune.
It all began in 197-1 when he started a radio programme on a public service station in St Paul. Minnesota. A Prairie Home Companion. and
beguiled a nation ofjuke box listeners with his warm. bantering stories ofan imaginary Midwest community where one day is pretty much like the next. Keillor's droll. off the cuff delivery and confidential air had four million listeners twiddling their nobs every Saturday to hear him tell them what they all knew. ‘lt's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon .'
The show had been going thirteen years when Keillor decided to call it a day last June. He packed his bags. gave his Formica writing desk to neighbours and moved to New York. where he has a cubby-hole in his spiritual home. the New Yorker. the magazine which he believes has a lot in common with the religious Fundamentalists amongst whom he grew up. His taste is for hardliners. and his mother being of Scottish descent. he made a beeline for the Wee Free when he visited the singer Jean Redpath. a ‘Prairie Home' regular. in Scotland three years ago.
‘I went to a Sunday service. It was different from what I knew but they seemed very much like the same kind ofthing. I liked it. The people reminded me a lot of those I knew as a kid. But I liked it. It satisfied something. People have different tastes. I suppose. I have a taste for something staunch which they certainly seemed to be. And they were good strong healthy people. They could sit in church for two hours. And they had not modified themselves. they had not cut their cloth to suit people who were tired.’
But how does that square with the glitz ofthe New Yorker‘.’ ‘Well. the New Yorker is principled too. I just didn't realise that when I admired them as a kid. I think what I probably admired as much as the writing was the advertising. The whole gloss and glamourofthe thing. But they're principled too. And one has so many opportunities to sell out. often. in all sortsoflittle ways. At least that one hopes are little and insignificant. Cutting and trimming and adjusting. And so it's good to know people who are staunch and hardliners. Hardliners on behalf of what’s good and true. ofcourse. But it's good to know people who take a stiff line. One can always use the example and one never knows when one may join them.‘
Does the thought ofselling out frighten him'.’ ‘No it doesn't frighten me and that's what I find frightening: the fact that like most people today my integrity seems too convenient .' He looks out the window. deep in contemplation. an unlikely soul to be in turmoil. Can this be the man who needs only to pour half a cup of Clorox bleach into the washing machine to relive the memory of kissing Donna Bunsen in her white
shorts and blue blouse with white stars? Could be. Could be.
Leaving Home by Garrison Keillor. a new collection ofLake Wobegon stories. is published by Faber priced [9. 95.
“'I‘TILTLISI 22 Jan — Feb 1988 43