On The Golden Porch (And Other Stories) Tatyana Tolstaya (Penguin £4.99) Having studied at Leningrad University’s Philosophical Faculty, one might have expected Tolstaya’s collection oi stories to be constructed in careiully craited sentences, but as her relative Leo Tolstoy would surely have opined, writing with ‘soul' cannot be taught or learned. In these thirteen beautiiully written gems, she breathes Iiie into all the characters with her observational kisses, and the denoument oi each story is drawn together with such skill that they are truly poignant (using this word in its dictionary sense oi ‘acutely painlul’ ratherthan as a reviewer's shibboleth). Her protaganlsts are ‘iailures’, but iallures who should have been successes, or who think they should have been successes — which makes them a lot more interesting than actual achievers. Regrets clog their hearts like emotional cholesterol, and as time pumps by, the arteries harden. Vassin Mllchailovich may ieel tile is a
predetermined Roman road irom which he cannot deviate, whereas Rimma and Fedya could have gone south years betore it they had really wanted to; instead Fedya sits in iront at his TV ‘not doing his dissertation'. Whetherthe cause is Fate or Weak Will, they suffer from dreams which shatter like shoddy Five Year Plan light-bulbs.
However, her characters, although very Russian, are also universally
recognised, and none oi them are stereotypes, not even cliche-named Uncle Pasha. Set in Moscow and Leningrad, only a piquant patina oi Soviet atmosphere lingers in one’s mind; tood shortages aren't rammed down the reader’s throat. The relatively iew reierences to the daily practical ditticulties oi Russian lite are all the more striking because oi that- eg the height oi iashion lor ordinary people
without access to the hard-currency iloors oi GUM are robes made in East Germany or lamps made in Jugoslavla; only in centrally-planned economies do people have to gnash on ‘shop-bought' teeth.
When reading I always dog-ear pages in which i have underlined turns oi phrase I especially admire; It may have gained in the translation (by Antonia W. Bouts) but my copy at this paperback has more dog ears than Bruits. Examples: ‘Solitude eats straight out oi the trying pan’ and ‘Depression, his evening girltriend, was creeping up on him'.
When I go to Venice tor two weeks in September i will re-read one story every evening as i sit in Florian's drinking cappuccino. ‘And the golden Lady at Time, draining the goblet oi liie to the dregs, will strike a iinal midnight on hertable ior Uncle Pasha. . .’ I pay my bill to the swarthy but sexy waiter, cross the Piazza San Marco, and order a gondolier to take me out to the middle oi the lagoon, where I will clutch this book to my chest, as dusk turns to night, and cry a tear ior poor old Uncle Pasha...
Buy this book. it won’t change your life but it might change you.
(David M. Bennie)
Tatyana Tolstaya appears at Waterstone’s, Edinburgh (Sun 3) and Glasgow (Mon 4). See Book Events.
I The Empire oi Fear Brian Stableford (Pan £7.99) Big book. Big print. Big price. Big ideas. Big deal? Spanning three centuries of alternative history, when an aristocracy of vampire lords hold sway, until the final anaemicaiiy blood-spattered conflict between science and superstition.
I The Centre Cannot Hold Brian Stableford (NEL £3.99) Brian Stabieford was born in Shipley and now lives in Reading. In between, his fictional hero Mike Rousseau comes to the rescue of the Gods of Asgard, saving hundreds of billions ofinteliigent humanoids in these two cradles ofciviiisation . . .
I Goat Dance Douglas Clegg (NEL
£3.99) Young Doug was a navy brat who went on to be elected Most Creative Person at high school. . . Hence this first novel, in which Malcolm Coffey‘s buried past has scraped its way out of its grave and tracks him down in order to present the bill for a full nail manicure . . . This book ought to be cremated; burial’s too good for it.
I Silver Hair The Wanderer Diana Paxton (NEL £3.99) Science fantasy tale of man on horse, armed only with asinine stupidity, in search of woman dressed in white bed sheet — evil trolls, etc, block his way. Paxton in her spare time plays the harp and writes poetry — but at least that's private grief. . .
I Brian Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles Ray Coleman (Penguin £5.99) As can be seen in the myriad Beatles biographies. Epstein inspired a great deal ofaffection in those he worked with, and Coleman (editor of Melody Maker for 11 years) has turned out a correspondingly fond biography, more illuminating than Peter Brown‘s Beatles insider-story, The Love You Make. Published in hardback in 1989. it still doesn‘t deal with some ofthe stranger rumours which have surfaced about Epstein's death since.
I A SummerAiiair Ivan Klima
(Penguin £4.99) Ageing forms the backdrop to this story, long-considered one of the great dissident Czech novels. and not only because the harassed biologist David Krempa is obsessively researching longevity. An encounter with a sensual young woman knocks him sideways. and his life begins to fall apart.
I The Enchanted Glass: Britain and its Monarchy Tom Nairn (Picador £5.99) Avoiding the hurried polemical tirade of a Counterblmt, one of Scotland‘s most eminent thinkers systematically dissects the nation's favourite fetish and. naturally, finds it wanting. Persuasive and refreshingly idiosyncratic.
Reading from & signing copies of his new book "A Sense of Something Strange"
(Dog & Bone £7.50)
at 6.30 pm. on Tuesday 12 June in John Smith & Son, 57 St Vincent Street, Glasgow
Please telephone if you wish to reserve a signed copy
The List 1 — l-iJune 199081