Breathing Lessons Anne Tyler ((‘hatto & Windus£l 1.95) A day in the life of Maggie Moran is a fairly mundane experience. But Anne 'I'yler. with fine precision and admirable sleight of hand. homes in on the ordinary and the pathetic to bring it new dignity and a keen edge. Maggie and Ira. old hands at marriage. are on their way from their home in Baltimore to a funeral in Pennsylvania. Maggie is a compulsive romantic. Listening in to a radio chat-show. she thinks she hears her son‘s ex—wife saying that she is going to re-marry. Hell-bent


The viewer who suspected that from time to time the attention of broadcaster Ludvic Kennedy was wandering a little wouldn’t have been far from the truth. With a few notable exceptions, Kennedy admits in his enjoyable, anecdotal autobiography, On My Way To The Club, to remembering little of the nitty gritty of the current affairs shows that he presented in the Sixties and Seventies. ‘It's boring,’ Kennedy told me when I asked why he didn’t go into the background of his TV success. ‘Who cares? The only interesting thing is who you met and what the circumstances were and what they said. I can't think of anything more boring than to go through a programme by programme account of all the programmes I have made overthe years’.

‘Boring', the word that for some reason schools tell you not to use, is a favourite one for Kennedy. Hand in hand with a desire not to bore his readers goes a lifelong desire not be bored himself. Kennedy, like his contemporary, Sir Robin Day, has stood for parliament as a Liberal and is honest enough to admit that he thinks he could have followed his political hero Jo Grimmond (‘no civilian politician had excited me so much’) and become leader of the party. But, he told me, he doesn’t regret not being elected to parliament: ‘I just don’t think that I am cut out to be a member of the House oi Commons. I would be bored to tears by a lot oi it'.

Nonetheless Kennedy did play a significant role in the movement for political devolution in the Seventies. It was Kennedy who, practically

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on saving her son‘s long-lost marriage. she persuades Ira to stop in at their ex-daughter-in-law's house. As information about Maggie's previous interferences is pieced together. a clear picture of the damaging nature of her unshakeable vision of married bliss and true love emerges. Despite the gaping chasm between her romantic imaginings and the harsh realities. she still compulsiver worries at the well-chewed. rnouldy bones of a failed marriage.

Her own marriage and her own disappointments are buoyed up by her capacity to dream and it is that very capacity that does. on occasion. bear fruit. She and Ira do have their

- moments of passion (although in

singlehanded, resuscitated the Liberal Party’s pledge for Home Rule. But while his opinions clearly haven‘t changed, the failure of the referendum has made him disillusioned about the prospects for a nationalist revival. ‘In the matter oi self government,’ Kennedy said, in a TV debate on the issue, where he supported the motion that ‘Devolution is dead and ought to be laid to rest', ‘We have become, and I am sorry to say it, a nation of political eunuchs!

Although those comments and his autobiography were written pre-Govan he is little more sanguine today. ‘I think I would have been less surprised (by Govan) had I been living in Scotland

l i l

indelicate circumstances) in between rows. niggles. Maggie crashing the car. and the ridiculous consequences of her interfering. It's an enthralling novel which hits all the notes in its emotional octave perfectly. (Kristina Woolnough)


The Surprise of Burning Michael Doane ((‘ape {I 1.95) Pulled from his mother‘s womb as she is killed in the blitz. Hunter Page is blinded for the first three years of his life. Adopted by a wealthy cottple who also die in flames. he knows only that his mother was Lela Maar. the famous American blues singer who had more lovers than a piano has strings. Distressed from childhood by his ignorance of her and of his unknown father. he finally sets out to put his ancestral record straight. At the same time. the old pattern takes an ironic twist as he fights to adopt the child he believes may be his son. A complex. often ugly story. Page tells it in flashes: a conversation here with an old friend of Lela‘s; flashbacks to her life in New York and England: grim snatches of Pages personal hell as a ghoulish

and Scottish affairs had been at the forefront of my mind which they weren’t. But if you were to ask me if devolution was now likely to go ahead, if there really will be a breakaway movement in Scotland: “I still hae me doots". Despite the fact that Scots do the most wonderful things all over the world, there is still this pull towards England at election time: “Don‘t let us be on ourown; don’t let ustake responsibility oi running our own affairs, let them down the hill do it for us." It is very odd, very strange, but it has always been there, this great inferiority complex’.

For years Kennedy suffered from his own inferiority complex. He writes frankly about the petty tyranny with which his mother ruled the lives of Kennedy and the elder of his two sisters (for some unfathomable reason, the youngest child had the love and kindness bestowed on herthat was denied Ludovic). Kennedy believes he has now come to terms with his childhood - and to be rid of the anxiety attacks that plagued him for many years. In his autobiography indeed, filtered through Kennedy’s sense of humour, his mother almost becomes a comic creation. Particularly batty was her belief in the dangers of boys peeing on cowpats. Germs, she asserted, could swim upstream against the tide and create havoc in the bladder: ‘Although I later discovered she was talking nonsense, I never dared piddle on a cowpatagain.‘

Kennedy speculates as to whether his mother was responsible for the other great theme of his professional life, running alongside his TV journalism. With the publication of a series of investigations on subjects like the 10

photojournalist in Vietnam.

Despite a fondness for (‘handleresque cliches. Doane‘s writing is fast. colloquial and convincing. But. while his skips and jumps create a collage-like background. thick with atmosphere. in striving for cleverness and effect. he comes dangerously close to losing

' the poignancy his story relies on. ; (Rosemary(ioring)


Mortal Embrace Emmanuel Dreuilhe 'l‘ranslated by Linda (‘overdale (Faber £10.95) The familiar terminology of war is the means by which Dreuilhe makes his ‘civilian' readers understand what it is like to live with AIDS. For three years. since his AIDS (he uses the possessive throughout) became active. Dreuilhe has lived in a state ofcombat with his familiar. almost respected. enemy virus. A positive test result is not a death warrant. he says. only a declaration of war.

Written in the style ofa contemplative pamphleteer. the book centres on Dreuilhe‘s personal experience in New York: the loss of lover and friends. the struggle

Hillington Place murders and the Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping Case, he became a champion of the wrongly accused and convicted. ‘l've never quite known why I was so obsessed by miscarriages ofjustice,‘ he told me. ‘But I wonder in the book whether it was because I felt so inadequate as a boy and I was championing people in some way inadequate in themselves’.

Bob Woffinden, in an article in last week's Listener magazine, bemoans the fact that ‘TV personalities of genuine stature and authority-those of the Sir Robin Day, Ludovic Kennedy, Robert Key vintage are not being replaced'.

Just as well then that despite being in his early seventies, Ludovic Kennedy isn‘t about to bow out of TV just yet (it Is after all a vintage with staying power). He is currently working on a couple of new TV programmes, he told me, including a series on oratory and a series provisionally entitled ‘Looking Back’ where, as he put it, ‘I’Il be asking people of my generation the sort of questions you are asking me now.’

‘People like Robert Key, Robin Day and myself had the best years,’ says Kennedy, who is disparaging about the ‘sludge' Murdoch is about to beam

down on us. ‘It was good while it lasted, but I think history’s verdictwiII be that it didn’t last very long.’

Perhaps the secret of Kennedy and his colleagues’ ability to make the most of that era lies in a professional detachment which communicated to the viewer—TV, they seemed to be saying in an era where its influence was the greatest it may ever be, really isn’t that important. (Nigel Billen). ‘Dn My Way To The Club' is published by Collins at £15.

58 The List 27 January 9 February