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the fact that he is insecure about his identity.’
McCoy is a performer, a stand-up comic whose irresponsible , bottle-to-mouth existence is a shabby reﬂection of contemporary urban life. ‘The mimicry thing seemed to me to suggest, Scots haven’t had political power in this country, and when you don‘t have that you’re at one stage removed from where things are happening and decisions are being made. McCoy’s character is a bit like that. He can’t do anything without being derivative. I think Scottish writers and painters feel like that too. Or have felt like that; maybe less so now.’
‘Scotland is a state of mind. Discuss,’ says McCoy, imagining a nightmarish examination paper. McCabe is aware of the Scottish
obsession with being Scots, and his portraits of McCoy’s assorted cronies are gentle caricatures of the contemporary thinker. They are, I suggest to him, an aimless crew. ‘A nicer way to put it would be to say they are self-determining,’ he laughs, ‘but yes, they are an aimless bunch. Although one is trying to write; one, we hear, is a painter; the other is a philosopher of sorts. So there you have most of the liberal arts. Except they‘re all unemployed.’
Set at New Year, McCabe’s novel twists on this pinpoint of time to contemplate the Scottish obsession with the past, and its foreboding for the future. His past haunts McCoy, in memories of earlier miserable celebrations, and in characters stolen from life and used in his comedy act. ‘It is a dubious business,’ says McCabe, ‘If your writing is, like my writing, a mixture of imagination and experience, inevitably you begin to question. Especially if certain ﬁgures keep coming up. Like the father ﬁgure, who always has some relation to my own father. I suppose one of the themes of the novel is this business of parental inﬂuences.’ In the novel, McCoy is reminded how he once said he would never be free until his father died, ‘If only they went away so easily,’ smiles McCabe, ‘They don‘t go away when they die. That’s the trouble.‘
McCabe was a poet before he was a short story writer and a novelist, and his book retains something of the unity and concentration of a poem. Like the Kensington novels of Muriel Spark, or indeed The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Other McCoy is a distillation of place, and,
perhaps, of an age. ‘l‘ve made an attempt at a novel set in Edinburgh dealing with Scottish preoccupations to some extent, so now my immediate reaction is to try and do something different. But like parental inﬂuences, I don‘t think Scotland is going to go away for me too easily. So I might return to it in another form. I don’t feel I’ve sewn it up by any means. lt’s just been an attempt at an Edinburgh novel. Probably a failure, but I hope an interesting failure.’
CHACUN A son oour
I In the Shadow oi Sartre Liliane Siegel (Collins £12.95) Bad translations often ruin good books. I suspect that In the Shadow of Sartre was pretty poor starting material anyway. It smacks of a cash-in on the resurgence of interest in Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. Siegel paints herself as too pathetic, the smallest of ‘Mother-Sartre’s‘ clutch of five female protégées. Painstakingly she
recalls conversations in which Sartre .
admonished and cajoled her, reminding her that she was the only girl who knew about the other four.
This image of Sartre as Puppet Master, the subject of near-hysterical adoration, is distasteful and embarrassing. (Miranda France)
I Cantor’s Dilemma Carl D jerassi (MacDonald £12.95) Pioneer work in oral contraception is an unusual pedigree for a novelist. But perhaps it explains why D jerassi’s lead characters are always just about to have sex or have just finished having it. Not to worry. Djerassi sweeps his blushing readers on from erotic-massage to the next-day-at-breakfast with only the briefest rustle of a dressing-gown.
But to the plot! Professor l.C. Cantor’s breakthrough in tumorgenesis-cancer research may well win him a Nobel Prize. Even so, he is plagued by the suspicion that his research student may have fixed the results of a vital experiment. If this is discovered, he’ll be ridiculed. On the other hand his suspicions may be groundless. Hence the dilemma.
It‘s a bit like watching Dallas with an Advanced Chemistry textbook on your lap. Good fun, though. (Miranda France)
MONKEY ON MY BACK
I Monkey on My Back Eric Detzer (Abacus £3.99); Kings oi Cocaine Guy Gugliotta and Jeff Leen (Simon and Schuster £15.95). Both of these books are about drugs. Not drugs as in DRUGZ but drugs as a commodity with a price, be it physical or financial.
Monkey on My Back is a true story of modern day opium addiction as experienced by psychiatric social worker Eric Detzer. This intensely readable book spares the reader none of the distress and heartbreak of addiction but at the same time steers clear of cliched self pity and condemnation. He writes about his battle against the poppy with the wry deprecation and ﬂair of a Burroughs for the Diet-Coke generation. Which brings us to . . .
Kings ofCocaine which deals with drugs as big business. Gugliotta and Leen’s book is based on a series of investigative articles which appeared in the Miami Herald in 1987.
It details the evolution of a group
of Columbian street thugs into the Medellin Cartel, a drug smuggling organisation which came to control over half the world’s cocaine supply in less than a decade. The Cartel grew into a multi-national business with estimated annual earnings of over two billion dollars through a combination of sharp business acumen and rule by the gun. It was this combination that gave the city of Medellin the highest. peacetime, per capita homicide rate in the world.
The book’s journalistic attention to facts and figures occasionally verges on the tiresome but Kings of Cocaine makes compulsive reading despite this.
Although these two books deal with different aspects of illegal drug usage their underlying themes are the same. Drugs, if given the chance, will eventually corrupt and control people involved with them, either directly through individual addiction to the drug itselfor indirectly through mass addiction to the money and power drugs generate. (Charles Holmes)
I Martian Time-slip Philip K. Dick (Gollancz £3.50) Originally published in 1964, this still stands as one of Dick’s best novels. The Martian colonies barely manage to survive from one shortage to the next; the infrastructure is gradually decaying and life is dull. Depression and mental illness are in evidence everywhere; everyone hopes for new Earthside investment but simultaneously fear any change this would bring to their small town American attitudes. There are no heroes but the struggle of their lives is all that counts. I Cyberlioolts Ben Bova (Mandarin £3.50) Books on computer chip! This amusing lampoon of the New York publishing scene assembles a cast of caricatures and watches as they react to the possibility of books being computerised and thus doing away with vast sweeps of their publishing empires — such as printing, distribution, even bookshops. Meanwhile, a murderer is on the loose and the strands of the plot all come together with a ludicrously
funny courtroom drama. This is a welcome change of style and pace for the author and is more reminiscent of some of Alan Dean Foster’s books.
I Gypsies Robert Charles Wilson (Orbit £6.99) Three children share a strange ability to dream but their parents refuse to discuss it and continually move house. Gradually it emerges that they dream alternate realities and an apparently friendly Grey Man is a deadly enemy who seems able to pursue them even into their dreamworlds. The story could easily have followed well-worn tracks of countless ghost and mystery stories but instead is a captivating, lyrical novel from one of the better new American fantasists.
I The Cyborg and the Sorcerers Lawrence Watt-Evans (Grafton £3.99) The latest of this author’s easy-going mixes of SF and fantasy; a surgically enhanced earthman lands to survey the planet on which magic apparently works. He plays the Competent Stranger; his Quest takes him across a land similar to Arthurian Britain — in fact, this is a reworking of Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. At the end, however, the hero gets to stay without being woken up by the author on the last page. (Mike Calder)
I The Mezzanine Nicholson Baker (Granta Books, £4.99) The publication of Baker’s second novel coincides with this paperback edition of his first (and better) book; a voyage through a lunch hour, which sets down in intensive detail the streams of inner thought and association that few would even think of bothering their diary with. Obsessive observation, no plot, but rightly one of the most raved-about books of last year.
Ann Vinnicombe reviews the latest publications.
I South oi the Border Barbara Machin (The Women’s Press £4.95)
.1. The Harrogaie Secret
Catherine Cookson (Transworld £3.99) 2. A Season in Hell Jack Higgins (Pan £3.95)
a. The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love Oscar Hijuelos (Hamish Hamilton £13.99)
9. The Complete Hip and
' 7. The Wimbledon Poisonar i The Sky Douglas Corrance Nigel Williams (Faber '
2. A Disailaction James Kelman (Picador £5.99) 3. Cereals Children Joseph McKenzie (Richard Drew £11.95)
4. The Vlaa Glasgow Facts
3, Bloodlng mm" Nay|of Thigh Diet Rosemary Book O. Keelic (Straight Chris Boyce (Dog & Bone Conlon (Arrow £2.99) Line £3.50)
£5) 10.Mozart’s Last Year HQ 5. Shades oi Scotland
4, Around the world in so Robbins Landon Oscar Marzaroli
Days Michael Palin (BBC
5. The Negotiator BESTSELLING Frederick Forsyth (Corgi £4.99)
6. Golden Fox Wilbur Smith (MacMillan £14.95)
1. Glasgow From The Eye In
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