both happy and miserable. eccentric
relatives. and pleasing little sexual fantasies. But he focuses also on the nasty and frightening rape. murder. terrorism. and the world blowingup. llis humour therefore can be dark and cynical; but it is also lighhearted and he is fond oflittle tricks with words. ‘Discretion is the
better part of Valerie.’ he comments
of a girlfriend who. ‘keeps her love on ice.‘ And he writes ofa poet who reads in public. ‘1 lis poems are nets in which he hopes to capture
girls. . . llis verse a mag nifying glass! held tip to his prick”. Some of the versesare slight and don’t quite come off. ()thers are funny and memorable. It's not great poetry. but then it doesn‘t set out to be. (Ken Morrice)
LETTERS _ . .
PEEPING IN ENVELOPES
Violet to Vita Ed. Mitchel A. l.easka and John Phillips ( .‘vlethuen £16.99).
From schoolday friendship in 19]“ to
the corrosive end of their intense love affair in 1931. Violet 'l'refusis and Vita Sackville-West kept tip a vivid correspondence. Sadly. \r'ita‘s letters were destroyed by \r'iolet‘s distraught husband. Denys. btit those from Violet to Vita were allowed to gather. tolerated by Vita‘s equally bisexual. and highly forgiving. husband llarold.
Two years younger than Vita. and the daughter of King Edward \‘ll‘s feted mistress. Alice Keppel. Violet was a passionate. single-eyed woman whose attachment to Vita. when related second-hand. comes across as an almost morbid. leeching devotion ~ irrational. tinjust and disturbing. So it appears in Mitchel Leaska‘s Sit-page introduction. which fills out the skeleton ol the story that Violet‘s letters later unfold. ()nee her letters begin. however. this powerful. mesmeric woman‘s voice grows imperative. at the same time drawing sympathy. Instead. it is Vita who - perhaps unfairly—emerges as the cooler partner. less loving. less true.
An unfortunately monologued accound of a coupling that defied
portraits by the inlamous Robert
One of a series at stunning photographic
Mapplethorpe. From Sam Women', i
almost all the conventions. this sepia-tinted collection leaves a sad echo of a historic love that was treasured. on both sides. long after its death. (Rosemary (ioring)
The Letters at John Cheever Ed. Benjamin Cheever((‘ape£1-1.95). Imagine: you pick up the phone; but before you can dial you hear a man‘s voice. It catches your attention: warm. excitable. anxious. it chooses its words well —- increasingly well the longer you listen. There are occasional pauses. and you know there must be another voice at the end of his line. and yet it‘s as ifhe is talking directly to you. intimate as an old friend.
And he‘s telling you about his life. At first. his obsession with writing and his fearsoffailing; then his months in the army. his marriage. the birth ofchildrcn and their cute behaviour; all woven around his literary strivings. Then comes fat fame. instructions to his editors. and the under—winging ofproteges. the first indications of his tormenting bi-sexuality.
You would find it a confusing monologue but for the regular voice—over of his son. filling in facts. elaborating on names. adding his own interpretation of his father‘s shimmering personality.
Then. as if the wire has been scissored. the line goes prrrr; not even an echo is left; only the memory of a complex. likeable man for whom words were the only real currency — now all spent. (Rosemary Goring)
I The High Road lidna ()‘Brien (Penguin £1.99) Her first in years takes tip the fates of broken-hearted lovers in search ofconsolation in the Med. l.y rical if a shade whiney.
I Winter Quarters ()svaldo Soriano (Readers International £5.95) Sequel to Argentinian bestseller. ‘A Funny l)irty l.ittle War'. llard- talking. dead—pan tale oftwo losers. I Fair Isle: An Island Saga Valerie M. 'l hom (.lohn Donald £12.95) A thorough history of the island past and present. its habitation and its
published by Secker & Warburg at £30.
I Land of the Snow Lion Elaine Brook (Cape £6.95) An honest. somewhat tetchy account of an expedition to Tibet. during which the author was confronted by bureaucracy. thugs and a rabid dog.
I On Extended Wings Diane Ackerman (Penguin Originals £4.99) Learning to ﬂy with all the minutiae etched in. No doubt a lengthy metaphor for something else.
I Mr Personality Mark Singer (Picador £4.99) Tales of everyday New York folks from The New Yorker. by one ofits journalists.
I Seed Corn Anna Blair (Shepheard-Walwyn £3.95) Neat. unfussy fables. some set in Scotland. others elsewhere.
I Unruly Times AS. Byatt (Hogarth Press £7.99) Very readable look at the relationship ofColeridge and Wordsworth in their social and political context.
I The Christmas Tree Jennifer Johnston (Penguin £3.99) A woman slowly but inevitably dies. leaving behind her a new baby daughter and a Christmas tree with blue lights. Poignant and powerful.
I The Cycles at American History Arthur M. Schlesinger Jnr (Pelican £7.99) Thick—set volume of analysis. history and politics in the US ofA. Fairly heavy-going with rniniscule print.
I Bino A.W. Gray (Abacus £3.99) Trigger-happy thugs and hard- talking lawyers in a murder investigation. Gritty. as they say. realism.
I Wall of Eyes Margaret Miller (Penguin £3.99) Return ofthe old-look Penguins. Suicide or murder? A thickening plot. more murder and a dogged police hound. I The Highly-Flavoured Ladies Patricia Angadi (Black Swan £3.99) Parallel stories ofdivorcing parents intertwine. although a hundred years apart. Intriguing switches from Victorian to modern-day English.
The short leets for the Saltire Society‘s Scottish Book ofthe Year and Scottish First Book of the Year by a New Author awards have just been announced.
I Scottish Book at the Year
James Kelman A Disaffeetion (Seeker & Warburg).
Liz Lochhead Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped ()ff (Penguin).
William Mcllvanney Walking Wounded (Hodder & Stoughton). Allan Massie A Question ofLoyalIies (Hutchinson).
I Scottish First Book at the Year Sian Hayton ( ‘ells of Knowledge (Polygon).
Roger Leitch The Book ofSandy Stewart (Scottish Academic Press). Charles Palliser The Quineunx ((‘anongate).
I The awards (worth £1500 and £1000 respectively) will be announced in January.
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The List 8 — 21 December 1989 79