FIRST NOVELS . STREET-SPEAK
The Colour Of Memory Geoff Dyer (Cape £1 1 .95) This is Brixton, then, post-riots, almost cordoned off; a dangerous place to be, you'd think. Wrong. It’s ‘The Colour Of Memory’, or the low-key ruminations from a group of liberally educated, inter-racial misfits bebopping around the social net. Narrated first-person singular by one of them, not unrelated to Geoff Dyer, in a sort of lip-curling, defiant, laissez-faire prose style, it takes you past eviction, sacking, then stolen car; each loss meaning less than the previous one. The shoulders are hunched, which is good for shrugging. For this is a trend-sucking essay on spare time, scrounging, sleeping rough and hanging out just long enough so the attitude stays bad.
Streetwise observations pepper the boogie-stroll, with plenty of dialogue calculated to sound like ad-libbing, ﬂip literary opinions, oscillating friendships that stay firmly inside the word ‘cooi’. Even this would be excusable if it weren’t for an obscene slice of the pathetic fallacy, an urban slum actually sentimentalised by semi-delinquent freeloaders with not one genuine grudge between them. Cod-sociology with ground teeth and a concealed hard-on; chapters in a countdown from sixty to zero, although in no sense is this minutes. (Chris Lloyd)
SHORT STORIES POETIC NORM
The Lover of Horses and other stories Tess Gallagher (Hamish Hamilton £11.95) American poet Tess Gallagher’s prose debut proves she is no slave to experimentation. There is no aggressive language, shock-value themes or body-blow delivery a la Janowitz/Acker New York school. Her encapsulation of the American experience is warm and quirky.
Gallagher’s characters may be respectable working and middle class— the romantically-inclined middle-aged and the nostalgic elderly — but she does not eschew a nitty-gritty realism. In her gentle,
keenly-detailed observations, she exposes life’s traumas—- disillusionment, revenge and passion. She examines the incidental and it becomes significant revelation with stories such as ‘King Death’, when a lonely bum reminds a woman of her husband‘s alcoholic past, or ‘Beneficiary’. when mundane insurance details provoke an ever-widening gulfbetween a couple.
This book is a wonderfully mixed bag, ranging from the mystical resonances of the title story and ‘Turpentine’ (featuring a psychic Avon lady) to the distress and
Company’. Gallagher brings a poet’s precise control to ﬁction and tells vivid, idiosyncratic and memorable tales. (Sara Villiers)
BIOGRAPHY GRAVEN IMAGES
Margsret Thatcher: The Woman Within Andrew Thomson (W.H. Allen £10.95) As a human being, the charmless Margaret Thatcher is marginally less enigmatic than Paul Daniels, but as a phenomenon, she is fascinating. Extensive polls have repeatedly shown that most people fundamentally oppose her — and nonetheless vote for her.
Andrew Thomson makes no in-roads into furthering our understanding of her or of what she appeals to in the British psyche. Instead he offers a ground-breaking tome in the sychophantic biography stakes. ‘The foundations of her belief are simple moral, economic and political truths’. This is clear-headed objectivity compared to the subsequent brown-tongued dribblings wherein Thomson waxes hysterical about Thatcher’s phenomenal memory, has multiple orgasms about her ‘love’ of DIY and positively attains Nirvana over her ‘ordinariness as a woman’.
Psycho-political theories and socio-economic analysis are blissfully body-swerved, while the austere name of Adam Smith, along with his ﬂexible terminology, is dutifully evoked as empirical evidence ofeternal righteousness. This is particularly irksome given that the clod-hopper prose does not suggest a man who could significantly differentiate Adam Smith from Mel Smith. (Stewart Hennessey)
FICTION ANCIENT AND MODERN
The Devil and the Giro: Two centuries of Scottish Stories Bditcd by Carl MacDougall (Canongate £14.95) Difficult decisions face the short story anthologist; who, what, how many, how long. in what order, the familiar or the unknown, greatest hits or forgotten masterpieces? There are also questions hidden from the reader concerning copyright, cost. length and availability. Undoubtedly some or all of these imponderables have _ influenced Carl MacDougall’s selection. The two best Scottish stories — in my view -— are not here; Sir Walter Scott‘s ‘The Two DroiIers and Stevenson’s ‘Thrawn Janet’. But they are easily come by and that may
be why th ve been overlooked. Perhaps not. MacDougall in a redundant introduction does not give his reasons, nor does he say why the stories are presented in the order that they are. It is certainly not chronological or alphabetical, beginning with Eona MacNicol’s supernatural ‘The Small Herdsman’ and ending with Douglas Dunn’s ironic satire ’The Canoes’. These two strains dominate and there are many fine examples from each: Mrs Oliphant's ’The Library Window’ and Scott’s ‘Wandering Willie’s Tale’ from the former; Ronald Frame’s poised ‘Paris’ and Muriel Spark’s The Black Madonna‘ from the latter. The vernacular too is strong whether it be Gibbon and Kesson’s north-east Doric, Kelman, Leonar and Gaitens’s west coast phonetic or Hogg and Buchan’s Border lilt. Hidebound by Scotland most of these stories may be, but they illustrate, in the now ofthe all-pervasive ‘Central Belt’, that the nation yaps discursively. Of the clack here, there are writers smothered in theses and rookies at self-help groups. Both will benefit by the association, and readers who come fresh to the likes of lain Crichton Smith’s ‘Murdo’ or Mackay Brown’s ‘Celia’ will be doing themselves a favour. (Alan Taylor)
Los Angeles Without A Map, Richard Rayner (Paladin £3.99) ‘I met her in a bar and I knew i was in trouble’. Right away, Richard Rayner, bespectacled and bookish ex-Time Out journalist, receives risky film noir vibrations from an American bunny girl with green eyes and a tan. Los Angeles Without a Map is conceived; a twisted journey virtually shom of anything, short of the hopeless gonad impulse to go there and ‘connect’. It’s embarked upon by the archetypal patsy, an 808' fail-guy embellishment of upper-lip naiver who sleepwalks through the consequences of this fleeting, transatlantic infatuation and lives to tell his fantastical version of it. In this way, confused personal ethics are intelligently extended into high-farce gear, a variation on that brutally satirical tradition — from Evelyn Waugh up to William Boyd -wlthln which the Englishman abroad is stripped of his clothes, dignity and health. Only Rayner draws It down a stage further into a ribald, whimsical reverie of cross-dressing. In Glasgow, promoting the paperback edition, he was perfectly aware of the implicit spice angle. ‘lt‘s the best side of myself,’ he said. A sleeve joke that makes dreamy headﬂnes.
it's a cinematic bull's caper, between runny and medium hard-boiled. Every time the narrative exchanges what is happening to Richard and Barbara (for the movie recollections he’s accumulated in his spool specimen-jar), then Los Angeles Without A Map begins to assume the
genius aspects of a romance; One Man and his Projector went to mow a meadow. This is despite Rayner’s own firm emphasis upon it as the ‘flctionalisation of a wrecked love affair, which i came out of feeling bruised and hurt, the way you do.’ In fact, Barbara, prom-queen chimera and object of this shiftless quest for adventure, acquires much of the same foggy cameo status that a baseball-obsessed, balls-in-his-throat Jack Nicholson has in the pre-ciimactic scene where he and the author plot strategy for reclaiming the lost bride, via kidnapping with chloroform. As do the cab driver, small sales vendors, poolside evangelists, barflies and other floating representatives of a truly desperate culture electing to regard its own navel as the most fabulous hole In the world.
In this sense, the book's conveyancing of a mildly psychotic and
insular democracy, (a place entirely levelled by the sheer, breath-sapplng diversity of its opportunistic dreamscape in which the inhabitants scurry around Inside their own highly personal interpretation of its surreal commerce), is achieved with a little style. However, the hero and heroine interact (or don't, despite a brief motel honeymoon in Las Vegas) lneptly against a backdrop so hauntingly distracting that they both remain unfocused. The camera has, as it were, zoomed in for the close-up only to pass beyond them. At best, the lovers are voice-over fragments inside a labyrinthine and fashionably insane environment commanding total obedience to it. Small wonder that Rayner himself claims that ‘l don’t have emotional moments anymore that haven't been influenced by the culture in that way'. Over-spill then. Naturally, the novel's contents have been rapturoust greeted both sides of the ocean. lt’s shortly to become a film. Hardly surprising, because even the limited self-critical elements of Hollywood can be quite effortlessly engulfed by its avariclous and cannibalistic self-love; the monster that eats its own flesh and pronounces it delicious. So soon after publication, ‘Bunny Richard’ that pale phantom of lost clutching the Playboy uniform of a real woman who is nevertheless imaginary, is history. ‘A fish out of water,’ Rayner calls him. Yes, but only in the evolutionary sense. How the gills are gone, and that cold-blooded frame can really jive. (Eric McCormack)
The List 16- 29June 198967