FIRST NOVELS '”'
UNMITIGATED DISASTER, GOOD BOOK
Ripley Bogle Robert McLiam Wilson (Andre Deutsch, £11.95) Ripley Bogle at twenty-one is a ‘filthy. foodless, cashless tramp‘. yet these are not the least of his problems. Sitting on a park bench somewhere near Buckingham Palace. experiencing ‘the Siberian truth of an English June’. he contemplates both his present squalor and his past failures.
Part Welsh and part Irish. Ripley Bogle, born ‘an intrepidly repulsive infant’ of an equally repulsive family, works his way up from the Belfast slums to undergraduate at Cambridge university. But, as he explains on the eve of his twenty-second birthday, everything Bogle touches turns to dust. A trail of disasters follow in his wake: his father dies on the kitchen floor before him, his best friend is killed by the IRA, his girlfriend goes insane after an abortion and Bogle finally gets thrown out of Cambridge. Things are definately going from bad to worse for Ripley Bogle. Or is his part in his downfall as innocent as he claims?
Ripley Bogle is both an impressive and enjoyable first novel. Robert McLiam Wilson revels in the richness and diversity of his prose — a real feast ofwords.(Ann Vinnicombe)
Ewing: I .93 It.”
ON THE ROAD IN HIGH HEELS Tip-Taps to Trinadad Zenga Longmorc (John Curtis/Hodder & Stoughton. £12.95) Zenga Longmorc is a quivering jellyfish ofa traveller. It is an endearing trait. She totters off from Brixton to the Caribbean on high heels. laden with sundry good luck charms and a crippling burden of phobias — including ﬂying. sailing and talipots (a pseudonym for some unmentionable anthropod). The odyssey of discovery round nine islands becomes an epic of self-parody as Zenga loses her heart to ragamuffin Rastas and her travellers‘ cheques. with undignified haste. to guileful locals. She is constantly conned. ﬂeeced and freaked out by the islanders, bewildered by their malicious sense of humour (Jamaican children stuff dead talipots into her cigarette pack and Haitians spook her with voodoo and zombies) and bemused by their anachronistic infatuation with the Queen.
The half-caste Zenga satirises the racial pride ofeach island explaining how her golden skin meets mixed reactions— ‘Mulatto’ in Haiti, ‘Black‘ in Dominica and ‘red skin nigger’ in brash, ebullient Trinadad. The scenery is described in limited terms, with oft-repeated ‘lush palms and exquisite blooms’ and cliched comparisons to paradise but the bright anecdotal prose is engaging; she successfully evokes each island’s idiosyncracies by relating whimsical encounters with bizarre characters, which are undoubtedly exaggerated but always hilarious. (Sara Villiers)
PETER IN GLASS OHUROHES
Where does the idea for a Booker Prize winner come from? In Scotland recently on a lap-of-honour to tout the paperback of Oscar and Lucinda (Faber £4.99) the Australian novelist Peter Carey told ALAN TAYLOR about the peculiar circumstances that set him off.
‘I began with this idea of a church floating down a river. I lived in a part of the country where I used to look out on a landscape where there was an old church by a river. I was very happy living there and it was a very nice place to be. One day I discovered they were going to take the church away. I thought, that’s pretty funny. Then I thought, that’s really so sad; two hundred years ago that church had gone into that landscape when it had been Aboriginal territory. when everything had Aboriginal names. I imagined when the Christian stories came into that Aboriginal landscape. So then I imagined the church as a boxful of Christian stories; then I imagined everything going up this lovely river through the landscape. By then I was thinking, perhaps there might be a book in this. But then I thought, why would someone
do that? It was a sort ofodd thing to
do so I thought I had tojustify it. Well, I thought. maybe there‘s been
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PED OUT AND UNWANTED Lost Children of the Empire Philip Bean and Joy Melville (Unwin-Hyman. £12.95) This book gave me nightmares. After all. how terrified would you be if, at the age of nine. you were plucked out of a childrens’ home in the UK. shipped off to Australia, deposited in another home miles from anywhere. then sadistically beaten by those in charge? You have no friends, no family and nowhere to run. If it all sounds too Victorian to be true you would be surprised to find that ‘child migration” (CM) went on until 1967.
Bean and Melville have successfully written a worm‘s-eye view of the whole sordid era ofCM. letting the participants speak for themselves and providing an historical framework to explain the misery. This emphasises the pain and trauma suffered by the kids but only brieﬂy touches on the economic motor that drove the phenomenon. For example, 19th century philanthropists like Barnardo. who quite happily shipped children off to Canada, could not have persisted had there not been a market for cheap. unskilled farm labour. functioning like an early and barbaric YTS scheme.
There were no effective controls on CM in all its 349 year history, no real supervision once overseas, sexual
and physical abuse was rife in homes
and private, isolated farmsteads. The damage inflicted since the early 17th century on generations of children has been immense and the authors are to be commended for being insistent on communicating
a bet involved; maybe someone‘s showing off and has prefabricated something. Then I had a chat with a dear friend of mine who is a fine architect. I asked him about Victorian. prefabricated cast iron structures. Much of them. he said, were used for plaster-glass houses. Why did I want to know? I told him and he said, Why don‘t I have a glass church? When he said that I really knew I had been given a huge present and when he said that I knew I had a book. Then I started thinking about gambling because there’s been a bet. And I thought about what Pascal said about belief in God being a gamble. I was very attracted to the idea ofglass. Very. There was real obsessional behaviour behind allot this; it was really something that. having grown up in an Anglican household which clergymen did come to. and having gone to Sunday school, I was really interested in and could write about. There were things there that I could be passionate about and be interested in and could find out about.’
murder in glasgow!
A Very Quiet Street
Described as ‘a novel ofsorts’, it examines the 1909 conviction of an innocent Germanjew, Oscar Slater, for the murder ofan elderly spinster. Kuppner’s investigation is combined with a Baedeker of early 20th century Glasgow, a personal memoir, a book of coincidences and a
j ournal of research in progress. It is a fascinating and original work.
john Linklatcr in ‘The Bookseller'
To be able to write poetry which is easily available, overwhelmingly funny and spare, earns my everlasting gratitude.
The important thing is to develop the ability to write literature, and then to write something else. This is the best chance ofproducing worthwhile literature- that is, something worth speaking over the phone to someone rung up more or less at random.
out now, paperback £7.95
Polygon 22 George Square Edinburgh
The List 30 June -13 July 1989 59