Making Tracks And Other Poems William Neill ((iordon Wright Publishing £5.05 ) The Scots are blessed with three languages and few of us are proficient in more than one of them. Some would claim that even that overstates the case. Moreover. it is stated that the Scots and (iaclic tongues are facing extinction and to write in them is to appeal to a small and rapidly dwindling readership. 'l‘his seems a sad reflection ofour nationhood.
.loseph Brodsky has affirmed that the language of a nation. embodied in itsliteraturc. is its spiritual life. If that is so. it is small wonder that Scotland has become parted from its roots. unsure of its own identity and obsessed with modern material needs.
'l‘his attractive volume of verse provides a small but perhaps significant counterpoise. The poems are in Scots. linglish and (iaelic. For those who find Scots difficult. there's
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AS IT WAS
Naomi Mitchison celebrated her ninetieth birthday in I987 and is considered one of the foremost contributors to the literary scene.
A S I 'I’ WAS is a new illustrated paperback edition of her first two volumes of autobiography — SHALL TA LI\' and A 1.1. ('Il.>l.\'(il:' Illz'Rlz'. £5. 99 RH ‘11. t R!) I)RI~.’ w H "nus/Irv; 1. '1‘!) (il- isoon
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a (ilossary. For those who lack the Gaelic. each poem in that tongue is followed by a lull translation. ()nc poem is entitled ‘What compelled you to write in (iaclic'." and contains these lines: Would it not have been better to spend my powers writingfaultless London ling/islz so leotddgel u lilllepoelr_\' book wit/I clean lltll'(l(‘()t‘(’l'.\' on it. . . And the verse which ends the poem also appears. a challenge. on the title page: ’l‘oo lure How to he twisting a rough Iongue lo the ur‘r‘enls of 1.()Il(l()ll. lmi liluliliering will: my ('urriek lips (iaelie and villain Imus! bide. impudenl in saffron buck and side.
Many of the poems have an immediacy of appeal and the language is direct and robust. William Neill has his roots in the Scottish countryside and is dismissive of suburban follies such as painted cartwhcels which have become folk-art and ofsome prissy garden form a part.‘ But his concerns are wide-ranging and his poetry deals with universal themes — love. death and the Bomb.
A notable feature is his frequent and skilful use of the sonnet form. in both Scots and English. With tongue in cheek. he warns of what he calls the Sonnet-( iolach. a beast that ‘haps ye ticht in octet an sestct’. to escape which a poet must ‘weir aff Daurk l.cddies. Belli an Rab (iarie.'
'lltis book will appeal to those who are scunnert of the over~clever and w illully obscure poems that win prizes these days and who prefer poetry which has meaning. style and wit. (Ken Morrice)
COOKING THE BOOKS
The Devil‘s Diary Patrick McGinley (Jonathan (‘ape £10.95) Set in the bleak and beautiful West of [)onegal. this tortuous tale recounts the anguish of Father Jerry. smitten by the diseased lrish passion for the past and the land. as he witnesses his boyhood stamping ground. (ilenkeel. turned into a ravaged Eden.
But to the villagers. the new motel and the fishmeal factory have come as an economic miracle — wrought not by (iod but by Arty Brennan. local-boy-made-Midas. whose plans to build a Holiday Village by the shore are. in Father Jerry‘s eyes. the ultimate desecration. (‘an Brennan be stopped by the power of prayer‘.’ Or by the force of man'.’
The (‘atholic hierarchy certainly won‘t lift a finger for. as the scurrilously nick-named Bishop Monopoly reminds Jerry: ‘We must
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never forget that double-entry book-keeping was invented by a monk.‘ But McGinley‘s book-keeping is of a more complex order and as he introduces Jerry's long-gone brother Hugo to the plot and adds ()lga. a blondc artist-enigma in retreat from distant Dublin. we have the ingredients for a tasty. bubbling Irish stew of lust and envy and finally death.
Written in a muscularly lucid prose which coheres its occasional improbabilities of plot. this ambitious pyscho-drama builds a teetering and hypnotic house of cards whose final tumble in the book’s confused conclusion marks a rare blemish in an otherwise diabolically well concocted brew. (.lon Katesby)
BIOGRAPHY WITH NO LIFE
In Search otJ.D. Salinger lan Hamilton (Heinneman £12.95) Part biography and part literary criticism. l lamilton‘s book is an attempt to conllate the life and works of the most enigmatic character in post-war American letters. Where the endeavour runs aground is on the fact that Salinger has left us with very few works and even less life to conllate. To date. his oeuvre consists ofone novel and a sparse assortment ofshort stories. What we know ofhis background and personality is even sparser. 'l‘he rabidly reclusive Salinger would have it no other way.
Hamilton is thus reduced to the most tertiary of biographical material: school chums. publishers and distant acquaintances. A consistent portrait nonetheless emerges: Salinger is sardonic. wry. suspicious. awkward — much like his most famous creation Holden in ‘(‘atcher In The Rye‘. Hardly a startling revelation.
Hamilton’s literary insights are also far from overwhelming. The themes and ideas of Salingcr’s work are dealt with cursorily. Hamilton regards each character as an extension of its author and that's usually about as far as it gets.
in his credit though. the critic has a few pertinent comments to make about the intrusive nature of biography and his prose style is at all times superbly memorable. He admits. however. that ‘In Search ()f JD Salinger' is not the book he intended to write. Even the great man himselfwas sufficiently moved to call it ‘a lifeless and uninteresting biography". (Allan Brown)
lnteriorJustin Cartwright (Hamish Hamilton £1 1.95). This isJustin (.‘artwright's fourth novel. and the blurb suggests it‘s one that has most in common with the author's own experience. Unfortunately. the tale also mirrors in several respects that ofJoseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and the danger of inviting comparison brings with it the thought that it‘s a third-rate imitation.
of course a seminal work. a portrait of the atavism beneath the veneer of civilised man. and ushered in the 20th century with all its horrors. Many subsequent novels set in Africa acknowledge their debt to ("on rad (though a few contemporary African writers have deplored its imperialistic philosophy) but (‘artwright's tale. while following the theme of a search for a white man ‘gone native‘. never gets beyond caricature. They're all here — the angst-ridden. ineffectual hero: a neurotic nymphomaniac ex-wife: a gin-sodden colonial a la Lowry’s Under the l'oleuno: a couple of token black nationals greedy for power and so on. While the writing itselfis assured. the tale chugs along more ponderously than Marlow‘s riverboat. And if some have criticised (‘onrad for his failure to fully reveal the horror at the end of the journey. ('artwright ends his tale so abruptly and inconclusively that you can‘t help feeling you've taken a wrong turning somewhere along the way. (Jim (ilen)
HANGING ON THE EDGE
Touching the Void Joe Simpson (Jonathan Cape). If you are looking for a relaxing bedtime book. forget this one. I needed a neck massage after reading it. A true story — Tone/1 the Void is Joe Simpson’s gripping account of making the first ascent of the West Face of Siula (irande. a treacherous 21 .000 footer in the Peruvian Andes. In high altitude mountaineering the ordeal is not over when you reach the top. The descent. after days ofextreme physical activity and mental tension. is often the most dangerous part. ()ff guard and tired. Simpson fell while traversing the summit ridge and the impact on hitting hard ice drove his lower leg up through the knee joint. His subsequent struggle for survival. along with rope-mate Simon Yates. will have you perched precariously on the edge of your chair. bone chilled and dehydrated until you have flipped the final pages of this amazing story. (David Balfour)
THE TRAGIC FLAW
A Little Original Sin: The Life and Works of Jane Bowles Miliccnt Dillon (Virago £10.95). Never heard of her‘.’ Never mind. With all the requisite juicy ingredients. Jane Bowles‘ life (perhaps rather more than her works one suspects) is bound to captivate.
Another Bohemian from the arty-farty Forties in New York. she dabbled (and sometimes drowned) in almost anything and anyone (gender no object of course) that came her way. Addictions to manic socialising. drinking and flirting reflected an incredibly deepset fear of facing herself. She was paranoid about being alone. even with her husband (although that may not be so unusual) and developed a dependence on others which ensured that she never really came to terms