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Postcards From Surfers llelen (iarner (Bloomsbury £12.95) This latest collection from llelen Garner brings together ‘Postcards From Surfers‘ and other stories with the short novel ‘The Children's Bach‘. These colourfully observed vignettes. subtly focusing on every-day detail. are set amidst the backlot of modern domestic life: ‘This was modern life then. this seamless logic. this common sense. this silent tit-for-tat' ponders Dexter. the duped husband.

The stories hint at the darkness below the surface light. in the nonsensical tangle of human relations. llelen (iarner invests her characters with a cold amorality as they stumble through social and sexual labyrinths which. in their apathy. they seem loth to find their way out of.

The documentary style flits from one image to another. leaving the characters. in the main. hollow and brash sketches. at times as shallow as the language they speak. The end result is an uneasy mixture of braod strokes and the occasional piercingly sharp detail. (Ann Vinnicombe)


New Values Mark ()ldham (llodder 8; Stoughton £12.95) New Values is an ambitious attempt to parallel the downward slide of the nation into World War Two with the events in Slackhall. an appropriately-named northern town full ofsmoggy tedium.

Worryineg predictable visions of William Boothe. orphan and heir to the local mansion. as he plays with Durrellesque spiders and as he runs


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through Waughesque corridors. are soon thankfully shattered. As his grandmother sinks into semi—

consciousness (and the old values go

with her). her new (xerman secretary '

determines to infiltrate the unsuspecting town with her Nazi ideals. Despite Dagmar‘s distaste for tannin-stained tea-cups and the oily puddles of Slackhall. she sticks Germanically to her purpose. ller fanaticism is matched only by that of the ‘Christian' Sister Ursula. and it is eventually the undoing of both perpetrators not to mention Slackhall or the world. Dagmar finally disintegrates into the rape-victim ofcertain pathetic members of the local constabulary.

As the characters move towards destruction. their microcosm is punctuated very occasionally (but often enough to instil a latent unrest) by external news— of the Prime Minister. of‘Adolf‘ or of the victims of an anonymous firing squad. somewhere. elsewhere. The collapse of order in Slackhall reflects the onset of war the sadness. chaos and indignity of it - and its arbitrary nature which. like the rain. is ‘wounding all alike‘.

There are some beautifully apt adjectives. some brilliant explorations into the pre-death state and a number ofdeft satirical portraits. Although some of ()ldham‘s experimentation is distracting. this is a promising novel about a vicious. topsy-turvy world. (Jacqueline Edgar)


Forward! Labour Politics in Scotland 1888—1988 ed. lan Donnachie. Christopher llarvie and Ian S. Wood (Polygon £19.50 hb. £7.95 pb).

The first in a new series called Determinaiions. which aims to



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celebrating the publication of his first collection of poems, "OLD NECATIVES", at 6.30 pm. on Wednesday 22nd February, 7989 in john Smith & Son, 57 5t Wncent St, Glasgow

Please telephone if you wish to reserve a 'i "'5‘" ."?’ mazes _M' - 39

provide ‘sustained dialogue about culture and politics in Scotland'. Forward! is composed of a number ofchronologically arranged chapters. each looking at a certain era. the one exception being an overview of the Scottish TUC. The book augurs well for subsequent titles in the series. being a serious but not too academic assessment of a century of Scottish Socialism.

l lad it been written two or three years ago. Forward! might not have focused quite so strongly on the attitudes of the Scottish Labour Party towards devolution. As it is. post-(iovan. this is the book's major leitmotiv. Depressingly but not altogether surprisingly. the story is just as often one of Scottish Labour's struggle for self-assertion against the London-based leadership as it is of the united fight against Conservatism. Long before 'l'hatcher's third term. it seems. the centralised party was telling Scottish members to keep their heads down. do as they were told. and continue to treat the Scots electorate as cannon fodder.

Given that the past century has hardly been one ofunremitting progress for the Scottish Left. the title is a trifle optimistic. Nevertheless. advances have been made. most notably in the provision ofpublic housing. and in the breakingofthe allegiance to the Tories of large sections of the Protestant working class. It was sectarianism and unionism which caused that allegiance: incredibly. as late as the mid 1920s. the Motherwell by-election was won by an Orange Lodge candidate. While sectarianism is still with us. its ideological hold has certainly been loosened.

As its title suggests. the general tone of Forward! is sympathetic to the Labour Party. with a resultant over-generosity to its not hugely impressive record. Simply as a useful contrast. the book could have done with a chapter from the odd dissenting Nationalist or right-wing voice Margo MacDonald or Allan Massie. perhaps. practising journalists both. Judicious sub-editing might also have relieved some chapters of their flat. rather


didactic tone. But overall. Forward! surveys its subject with commendable accuracy and concision. (Stuart Bathgate)


Chekhov: A Spirit Set Free

V.S. Pritchett (Hodder & Stoughton £12.95) ‘What is the meaning oflife‘." asked Chekhov‘s actress wife Olga. shortly before he died. ‘lt is like asking what a carrot is.’ he replied. ‘A carrot is a carrot and nothing more is known.‘ This anecdote is instructive on two counts. First. it illustrates Chekhov-‘s condescension towards women. Always jovial and from a young age an inveterate practical joker. he was adept at turning would-be lovers into friends. But women. however much he enjoyed their company and depended upon them for the smooth running of his household. were rarely treated seriously.

Second. it pinpoints his mastery of the prosaic. Particularly in the short stories Chekhov eschewed the neat ending for the proper one. by ‘returning‘ his fiction to real life. But it somehow strikes the right note: it is that which we understand as Chekhovian.

That note of felt reality is what distinguishes him from other great Russian writers and particularly from Turgenev. Pritchett knows what he is talking about. Previously Turgenev’s biographer and a modern master of the most exacting of literary forms. he rates Chekhov the story writer over Chekhov the playwright. The case he presents to back this up is convincing and fascinating.

This is not a biography in the modern sense. Pritchett has depended on secondary sources and translations. and his joyously readable book is unburdened by the antimacassars of the academic— footnotes. superiors and bibliographies. Nor is it stuffed with menus. laundry bills and tittIe-tattle. It is as light as a rattan chair but it is not light-weight. Those who want to know more about Chekhov the man are directed elsewhere. but if it‘s Chekhov the writer you‘re looking for. look no further. (Alan Taylor)

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