Out of This World Graham Swift (Viking £10.95) The thoughts of Harry Beech and his daughter Sophie reach out. like the hands of lonely shadows from either side of the Atlantic. crossing a limbo of mutual estrangement. trying to re-set the jigsaw pieces oftheir pasts. And from each an umbilical stretches towards the figure in a Surrey churchyard. the remains of Harry‘s father. a bomb victim from a decade earlier. Can the links oftheir personal pasts be knitted into sense? Can ghosts be exorcised? Does memory heal or merely act as a subversive weapon?
For Graham Swift such questions cannot simply be left to lie in the nest ofone family. so the terrorist bombing of Harry‘s father becomes both symbol and signature of the century. a violent symptom of a stream ofinhumanity much ofwhich Harry has witnessed as a one-time photographer.
Highly readable. this story is fictional nouvelle cuisine. served in slivers of conversational prose. which. whether rolled. sliced or diced (as in Sophie‘s ‘confessions‘). whet the appetite. then finally leave an ache ofemptiness. For Swift. not content to paint small. burdens his book with mega-significance. biting off more than is chewable and delivering less to his reader. (Tom Adair)
UP THE RHINE
The Temple Stephen Spender (Faber £10.95) The campaign trail ofgay writing has been heating up of late. Partly a defiant gesture in the reproving face of moralists. it‘s as much a sign of nostalgia for the good old gays. when all that came between them was soap and Vaseline. Stephen Spender‘s contribution to this emotional deluge is refreshing. predating both the Aids‘ age and the erotic 60s and 705. written instead in a climate of British repression and censorship.
A redraft ofa novel begun in 1929. The Temple is blatantly autobiographical. an occasionally
irritating. hindsightful account of Spender‘s undergraduate deﬂowering and blossoming in the free and lascivious world of pre-war Hamburg. For the young poet. the Teutonic obsession with the body bare and beautiful is at first liberating. then nauseating. Unexpectedly compelling. this sepia-tinted story strays from the physical intimacies of homosexuality to follow the paths of a mixed group. from Auden and lsherwood. undisguisedly caricatuer in Wilmot and Bradshaw. to Spender‘s disturbing German friends: Ernst. a creep by any standards. and Joachim (photographer Herbert List). who seeks the wild and wicked and inevitably brings his own disappointment. Written in double focus by drawing together the threads of Spender‘s first visit to Hamburg in 1929 with his return in 1932. The Temple is a delicate. sharp-eyed portrayal ofmaturing sexuality. When first drafted. it was also a prophetic glimpse of the future. when the gravel crunch of jackboots was to replace carefree plimsoll days. and sex became subordinate to politics. (Rosemary Goring)
Julia Paradise Rod Jones (Jonathan Cape £9.95) Set in Shanghai during the late l92()s. Australian Rod Jones‘s first novel is something ofa dark horse. Its hero is an enormous Scot with several fixations: Edinburgh. Freud. J.M.Barrie and taking pre-pubescent girls from behind.
‘Honeydew‘ Ayres is a Peter Ustinov figure. a larger-than-life Hercule Poirot who. in this case. sniffs out the cause ofother‘s mental afflictions. From this morbid psychoanalytical occupation. Ayres makes a tidy sum - enough. at any ' rate. to indulge his sexual hobby.
Then he develops a new obsession: enigmatic Julia Paradise. who from the analytical couch weaves long and involved tales of her incestuous and perverse sexual experiences. But her Reverend husband claims their marriage has never been consummated. let alone progressed into the acrobatics she describes. And neither does the Reverend‘s description ofJulia‘s father fit the lecherous bill. Ayres can‘t let it alone. Is Julia lying? His own sexual imagination is teased and toyed with by Ms Paradise, who dangles an irresistably pornographic carrot. Ayres is sucked out ofhis
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professional complacency into the reality ofpsychological problems which he has hitherto pompously (and ironically) belittled.
Fantasy supersedes fantasy. and Jones apparently slight novel lies thick with the dust of mystery. It is a prose rewrite of ‘Kubla Khan‘. rich with portents of allegory and galloping (sometimes reader-riderless) far into things best left alone. (Kristina Woolnough)
ANATOMIST AND ANTAGONIST
Granville Sharp Pattison F. L.M. Pattison (Canongate £12.95) Describing G.S. Pattison, the first sentence of the second paragraph of this book says. ‘By the age of twenty-seven he had been tried before the High Court ofJusticiary in Edinburgh for grave-robbing, found guilty at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary ofunprofessional conduct. and named as a paramour in the divorce proceedings of a university colleague.‘ Later he was to work in America. where he fought a duel. at London University as the first Professor of Anatomy from which he was dismissed in 1831. and then again in America where he died in 1851.
He has been described as an ‘Anatomist and Antagonist.‘ And, like Alan Breck. another pugnacious Scot. he was a ‘bonny fechter‘ and obviously enjoyed a quarrel. Indeed in most disputes he was the aggressor. But he was also a skilled anatomist and teacher though ‘The dichotomy ofoutstanding professional attainments and bitter quarrels was to be his hallmark throughout life.‘
This book. attractively typeset and printed on fine quality paper. is a production ofwhich Canongate can be justifiably proud. (Sandy Hodge)
SCI-Fl & FANTASY
An occasional round up oi Science Fiction books.
I Tommyknockers Stephen King (Hodder & Stoughton £12.95) In his latest novel. Stephen King strays a little from his tried and tested Horror formula and comes up with a rewrite of In vasr'ort ofrhe Bodysnatchers. King seems to be trying to prove that one can take the hoariest old cliches ofSOS‘ sci-fi and turn them into a bestselling novel.
The story is as usual set in backwoods Maine and revolves around the discovery of an ancient flying saucer buried deep in the earth under the little village of Haven. As more and more of the saucer is unearthed by Bobbi Anderson and Jim Gardener the village and its occupants undergo odd transformations.
Revolutionary ideas come to them as commonplace. great inventions are made. But. unfortunately. mens‘ noses bleed. womens‘ periods continue indefinitely. their teeth fall out and finally their bodies begin to mutate to resemble the dead Aliens found on the ship. Only Jim
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Gardener is immune to this (at least for the most part) and saves the day by destroying the ‘Tommyknockers‘ and their ship and gaining his own
salvation from a miserable existence.
At 563 pages this is one of King‘s shorter novels but it still feels overlong and overwritten. especially in the slow-moving first chapter. Though lacking real humour and a sympathetic main character. the story itselfis readable but not enough to hold one‘s attention. After Misery we were entitled to expect more. (Kenny Penman)
I Araminia Station Jack Vance (NEL £6.95) The new Jack Vance novel isn‘t — unfortunately — the third part ofhis ‘Lyonesse‘ series but a welcome return to the universe of the Demon Princes‘. The plot initially centres round Glawen Clattuc and the intrigues and rivalries involving his family and friends as they grow up on a small backwater planet hidebound by tradition. But change is already starting to affect society and Glawen starts his training for the police forces which protect the planet Cadwal. a huge nature reserve. and prevent its exploitation.
As elsewhere in Vance. the events and locations are described with dry, understated humour — attention to detail reveals that the characters are often in almost slapstick situations. As the plot develops secret societies and rites are exposed and much of the novel is spent tracing these to their unlikely source.
This is the first ofa series. ‘The Cadwal Chronicles‘ but is nevertheless complete in itself(in this volume the ‘Demon Princes‘ link is tenuous) but major plot strands are left barely developed for future volumes which. like me, I‘m sure you‘ll want to read. (Mike Calder) I Visible Light CJ. Cherryh (Methuen £2.95) A collection of six short stories. ranging from fantasy to sci-fl, covering the many years of Cherryh’s career. Included among them is ‘Cassandra‘. which won an Hugo award for the best short story. It‘s a fine tale of a woman who can see into the future but can‘t get anyone to believe her. It‘s unlikely it would win an Hugo today. The other stories vary in quality with the sci-fi tales generally less successful than the fantasy. ‘Thiefof Korianth’ is a straightforward fantasy adventure and probably the best realised of all the stories. Whilst this book will satisfy regular Cherryh readers it‘s a little uninspired for the unpartisan. (Alisdair Boyd)
I Memory Wire Richard Wilson (Bantam abt. £2.80) Ifyou have a specialist shop near you this American book is worth checking out. Reminiscent ofearly Sturgeon. it‘s the story of three people in search of concurring their internal feelings, encompassing ancient alien rocks buried deep under ground in Brazil and the visionary properties they posssess. A page-turning thriller with an uplifting ending. (Kenny Penman)
54 The List 18— 31 March 1988