THE SEXUAL CONSPIRACY
The Clarinda Conspiracy Alistair Campsie (Mainstream £12.95) Undoubtedly cunning and clever.
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Campsie‘s novel attempts to explain the facts about Rabbie Burns which have hitherto been embarrassingly inexplicable. The romantic image of the man — defender of Scottish culture proper, critic of hypocrisy. honest and true man of the earth — has always been somewhat compromised by (or at least has sat uneasily beside) the glaring facts. Why did Burns join the hated Excise? How can such a licentious, screw-anything-that-moves. fearsome drinker be considered the noble champion of the people? Why did he give up his political verse? And why did he. if he was a genuine man of the earth, lease such a useless farm which brought poverty on himselfand his family?
To answer these questions, Campsie slowly unravels a character-assassinating plot against Burns engineered by the English and by Scots who, unspeakany jealous of Burns‘s sexual prowess and his
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poetic success, schemed to ruin him. Campsie‘s conspiratorial cast are strongly portrayed: Henry Dundas, even more licentious and more of a boozer than Burns, is the supreme, purple-faced villain. But despite the strengths of the narrative and the convincing behind-the-scenes political connivings, the explanations of Burns‘s personal morality are weak. Did Burns really have to bed half of Edinburgh because he had a sore leg and missed Jean? The novel remains pure fiction, but intriguing fiction nonetheless. (Kristina Woolnough)
Towards Asmara: An African Novel Thomas Keneally (Hodder & Stoughton £12.95) Thomas Keneally visited the Eritrean front-line under the protection of Eritrean rebels two years ago, returning again just before the recent coup, and found all his preconceptions of the civil war swept away. He was profoundly impressed by the governmental structure of the rebels and their dedication to education and humanitarian values.
This book, which is the outcome of this visit, is as a novel unconvincing, but as a testament to a people little understood in the West, timely and much needed. There is an entire school of literature of the Western traveller in alien cultures: troubled
Pardon the pun, but at 30 years of age, '
Jeanette Winterson has already had an undeniably fruitful career. The prizewinning, bestselling author of ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’ -the hilarious account of her Pentecostal Evangelical childhood - recently published ‘Sexing The Cherry’ to the kind of high-profile reception guaranteed to a regular ‘renegade’ on the Sunday Times review pages.
Always professing to be surprised by the extreme fascination which surrounds her she lately declared that ’forthe public, nothing is too wild or strange’; ‘Sexing The Cherry’ may well put that claim to the test. For Winterson, one time zany humourist, is becoming increasingly self-conscious and academic. At times her writing emerges as clear and brilliant as ever but it is usually swamped in a web of tangenial threads in this fantastical story about Jordan, an explorer in 17th century England, and his largerthan life monstrous mother. Winterson defends hertheories.
‘I’m experimenting', she declares. ‘Writing is a struggle, an act of faith. I’m setting myself more exacting standards. I’m playing around with language and form — and pushing literature forward. Where else can fiction go? I believe that writers have an obligation to do this.’
The vague meanderings are somehwat relieved by the Dog-Woman, a hyperbolic character
who cheerfully fulfils the Christian maxim of ‘An Eye for An Eye’ with grisly precision. ‘I didn’tthinkthaf the Dog-Woman would come out as a terrifying Gothic giant but she sort of took over. i wanted to depict a woman without any of the usual attributes of women in literature’, explains Winterson ‘she is not sexy, not good and she hasn’t got a romantic bone in her body. She is filthy, murderous and difficult to deal with but she still excites the reader’s sympathy.’
Like Ian McEwan’s ‘Child In Tllme’, ‘Sexlng the Cherry' probes weighty metaphysical matters, albeit in a rather frothy way.
‘Scientists are only now beginning to validate what people have been saying for years; physics and metaphysics are gradually merging. Scientists are now admitting that matter is only empty
space and points of light. Artists should highlight these issues; you have to stretch people’s minds. The idea that time is not linear (a prevalent motif of Sexing The Cherry) is only a theory. I don’t know if it’s true or not but it certianly is an interesting idea. I can iictionalise these propositions and throw some questions of my own into the general arena. Readers may think ‘oh, that’s rubbish’ but no matter; the more debate, the healthierthe society.’
‘There are too many words, it becomes impossible to clear your head; you are constantly bombarded by advertsiements and billboards. Every time you go out you are assaulted by some trivial piece of information.’
Ironicaly Winterson herself is responsible for some of that barrage of bombast; her journalistic output is profound, from articles theorising about her own work in ‘20/20’ to pontificating on fashion in the pages of ‘Company’.
‘l’m more or less finished with ioumallsm now’ she declares. ‘I’m too tied up with other things -l want to do another series forthe BBC (She recently adapted ‘Oranges’ for TV. It will be screened in January). lstiil get some odd requests. I’ve just turned down an offer to be Motoring Correspondent for the Sunday Correspondent! i mean, I like cars, butl don’t want to test-drive the new Fiesta . . .' (Sara Villiers)
Book sensation of the year!
THE QUIN C UNX
by Charles Palliser
"AN EPIC WELL WORTH THE WEIGHT!"
"a grand read on a grand scale . . . . the most intriguing book of the year."
£14.95 hbk 800 pages 0 86241 221 8 23 September 1989
CAN ON GATE PUBLISHING
17 Jeffrey Street Edinburgh EH1 lDR
The List 29 September— 12 October 1989 71