usually epitomised by their inexplicable self-satisfaction.
The latest novel by John Barth. currently the genre‘s foremost exponent. deals with a husband and wife — respectively an author and a collector of stories — who spend two weeks and six hundred odd pages sailing the Chesapeake Bay in a boat called Story. trying to overcome writing blocks and emotional traumas. There are ofcourse many diversions on the way. and encounters with many characters. each ofwhom has a long. shaggy dog story to tell.
Alter one such tale we are given the reaction of the male protagonist: ‘()h ha. Oh ho ho. ()h tishy whum fa ha ho ho margy fum tee whoop hoo haw. Hum! Hum.‘ (p72). To which one can only reply: ()h hell. ()h no. ()h overdose of whimsicality.
But despite such occasional lapses. it is an incontestable fact that Barth writes with consummate elegance. That his work has any point to it whatsoever — beyond an egocentric celebration ofthe writer‘s craft — is far more open to debate. (Stuart Bathgate).
I Henry and June: From the Unexpurgated Diary Anais Nin (w.ll. Allen £2.99) Records Nin‘s passion for both Ilenry Miller and his wife which led her from the depths of under the blankets and no peeping into dizzy heights ofunmitigated sensuality. Ilonest and occasionallv fruity. I I February Shadows Elizabeth Reichart (The Women‘s Press £4.95) Dark Germanic tale ofa woman who witnessed the extermination of escaped Jews during the Holocaust and holds up the ability to forget as the saving grace. until her daughter starts poking at the past. I The World of the Short Story: A 20th Century Collection ed. Clifton Fadirnan (Picador £7.95) Every writing body who's supposed to be anybody is represented here in ()2 samplers and in less than 850pp. I The Butterfly Plague 'I‘imothy Findley (Arena £3.99) Quirky Hollywood family is riddled with illness and paranoia and then gets set upon by the aforementioned plague to boot. Compulsive and bizarre. I Shiloh and other Stories Bobby Ann Mason (Flamingo £3.95) Kentucky fried tales ofrustic life: vivid. direct. terse and true. I Loving Little Egypt Thomas McMahon (Picador £4.50) An almost-blind albino genuis ( Mourly Vold) taps into the telephone system and sets up a network of free communication for blind people. Celebrities pop into the novel to aid and abet Vold (code name Little Egypt) or to hinder and harrass him. Fine ifstrange. with hefty doses of telephone engineering. I Moon Tiger Penelope Liver (Penguin £3.99) As historian Claire Hampton prepares to meet her Maker she writes the history of the world and of her own spellbinding
past in Egypt. The 1987 Booker Prize winner.
I Hunger Knut Hamsun (Picador £3.95) The early struggles of a writing genius unmitigated by humour. Echoes of Dostoevsky: grumbles of Gissing’s Grub Street. I Summit I).M. Thomas (Abacus £3.99) A send-up of the Geneva Arms Convention with Reagan (here Tiger ()‘Reilly) selling Grobichov ILJI) contraceptives (his US advisors believe IUD is the code-name for the star wars project). O'Reilly is after Grobichov‘s wife (who is really his daughter) and so the spoofgoes on. Wholesome satire.
A PROPHET WITH HONOUR
MacDiarmid Alan Bold (John Murray £17.95) The quatrain from A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle that includes the famous ‘whaur extremes meet' phrase is the motto on MacDiarmid’s tombstone in Langholm. the mean-minded border town where he grew up. MacDiarmid preferred to be remembered as ‘A disgrace to the community" and there are many communities who would not dispute that that‘s just what he was. He was certainly not a man who did things by half. though ironically — but fittingly for a Scottish poet — he chopped himself in two. ()n one side was the mild-mannered. private. gentle.
Caricature by Emilio Coia in The Scotsman in1976.
' if? ‘s
generous. selﬂess. caring Christopher Murray Grieve. the handle he acquired from his parents: on the other was the raging. vituperative. brilliant. loony. ﬂirtatious. disloyal. piratical. polemical. poetic Etna self-styled Hugh MacDiarmid: MacDiarmid because of its Celtic connections and Hugh because it sounded right. Alan Bold appropriately segments this first biography ofScotland’s greatest poet since Burns (not that there has been much competition). metamorphosing Grieve into MacDiarmid seamlessly and coping capany with the inherent contradictions. A pilferer. plagiarist (‘Minor poets borrow.‘ said MacDiarmid borrowing from TS. Eliot. ‘major poets steal.) philanderer. drunk. self-promoter (he published and reviewed his own early books). artistic fascist. Communist. Scot Nat. MacDiarmid had his hand in every till but gets off with a pardon after his biographer makes a special. eloquent plea of genius. (Alan 'I‘aylor)
CATALOGUE 0F DISASTERS
Jean Stafford —A Biography David Roberts (Chatto £18) Whether intentionally or not. David Roberts lends furthur kudos to the fairly well established beliefthat Robert Lowell had a death wish on anyone or anything he came into contact with. And Jean Stafford was evidently no exception. In this new authorised biography. he catalogues unsympathetically the utter tragedy ofthis woman‘s life. Stafford endured a disturbing tip-bringing in Colorado (with a devout Scottish Presbyterian mother and a cowboy father who wrote Westerns). the agony of marriage and divorce twice over. breakdowns and internment in a psycho-alcoholic clinic. venereal disease and total estrangement which drove her to spending her last years as an unhappy recluse. Stafford became one of a group of celebrated East Coast writers which included Randall Jarrett and Lowell. Parallels with the life ofSylvia Plath strike an uncanny resemblance: both were bright. successful. talented and beautiful. Both strove for perfection and were fanatically disciplined about their work. And both came into contact with Robert Lowell. However. Plath was fortunate enough not to marry him. unlike Stafford. Stafford became successful before him which inspired much silent resentment and jealousy in him. She was also driven down a blind alley by him in an intoxicated and incensed state. He smashed into a wall in an almighty crash which resulted in a fractured skull and facial disfiguration for her. whilst he was unhurt. Stafford underwent four operations to reconstruct her nose. only to have it smashed again at a later date by Lowell in yet another fit ofdrunken brutality. Stafford‘s life was ridden with such catastrophe, and no amount of
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A SELECTION OF RECENT CANONGATE TITLES
A BUNCH OF SWEET PEAS Henry Donald Colour lllustratirms by Anne Paterson Hardback £9.95
MY LIFE AS A SCRIBE
George Thomson With numerous examples of tire author's stunning calligraphy Hardback £14.95
SCOTTISH LOVE POEMS A personal anthology chosen by Antonia Fraser Hardback £12.95
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Zen in The Novels of Neil Gunn John Burns Hardback £12.95
THE NEW TESTAMENT IN SCOTS Translated by W. L. Lorimer ‘. . . a linguistic treasure trove. ' The Observer Hardback £20.00
Available wherever good books are sold
The rm 3llSepl — l3()ct loss 51