named Eulene. in San Francisco. This isjust one part of Eddie‘s decline. but like the other emotional and physical journeys in this novel. set mainly in New York‘s gay community. it displays a universality born of familiarity.
Eddie‘s story is unfamiliar to me. but to homosexual New Yorkers. it must be sickeningly predictable. Weir‘s intention is not to generate suspense (the title says it all. more or less). but rather to find a way of honouring the devastation inflicted on.gay circles by AIDS. He avoids sensation (and is gentle with the reader during the shocking passages). aiming instead for an elegaic tone. which can encompass the diversity of response to the disease. It‘s an emotionally complex and searching hook. with a broad focus that takes in a range of characters and moods. including lightly ironic humour: ‘His life passed in and out of his room. ominously. portentiously. a daily procession of luminaries emerging from out of his past. bearing gifts. like the Magi. . . Polly was Mary and Saul wasJoseph and AIDS was the Immaculate Conception.‘ I
Beautifully and achineg written. this is a tale which refuses to dignify i AIDS with any cathartic meaning. I history is created — rugged beauty
but which unsentimentally mourns its victims. (Andrew Burnet) i
realms of his faith.
I The Ballad of Sawney Bain Harry Tait (Polygon £9.95) By the Good Lord. ‘tis a queer kin’ o‘ tale. 0’ rnichty lore. o‘ fichtin‘ an” wenchin‘ and. frankly. the effect ofthis hefty dose of auld Scots dialogue is wrung dry. Whilst undoubtedly it reeks of authenticity and atmosphere, it nibbles the brain and impairs the
Having waded through the invaluable. if somewhat scholarly, preface of historical and political events and characters which form the background to the text. we are flung into a 17th-century Edinburgh cell, where Sawney Bain. cannibal and alleged son of Satan sits. broken by his torturers but defiantly silent, commanding an eerie power over his benevolent clergyman companion.
And then. Bain is dead. And here the tale begins. The recollections of the minister are pitted against the Black Book. the diaries ofBlack Agnes. Bain‘s supposed accomplice. It is a revelatory document which affects the clergyman beyond the
Strong characterisation is at the fore as a convincing and gritty. kaleidoscopic slice ofScottish
and rampant God—fearing is turned on its head by the furious battles and
WATERSTON E’S g \B()()KSEI.I.ERS/’
Meet GERRY CONLON
(of the Guildford Four)
IN CONVERSATION AND SIGNING COPIES OF HIS BOOK PROVED INNOCENT
(Hamish Hamilton £12.99)
MONDAY 2ND JULY 7.30PM
Please phone to reserve copies 132 Union Street, Glasgow G1 041 221 0890
biting hardship. This is a worthy social document which deserves the concentration it requires. (Susan
I The Afternoon 0! A Writer Peter Handke (Methuen £11.99) Handke‘s latest offering is, in its way, a compact and sophisticated rendering of what has become the well-trodden path of the self-conscious writer’s writing.
A precise, meticulously detailed inquisition into the after-work hours of an unnamed author follows him as he leaves his house, has a drink and then goes to bed; the whole, though, is charged with the same sense of thoughtful intensity that Handke displayed in his film work. Like Wings Of Desire, like The Goalkeeper’s Fear Of The Penalty, the emphasis is very much on the moment of consciousness, the moment of perception — approached directly and without portentousness.
This “little book‘ provides a succinct rendering of Handke‘s central concerns: with great delicacy he lays bare skeins of thought and posits the writer’s alternating fear and elation as a quietly effective critique of a contemporary Dasein. Like Ganz’ angel in Wings OfDesire, the creator/intellectual is fascinated by the objects of his work, and enters a final quietude, bemused by the wonder of his own existence.
Handke has been Europe’s professional ‘young’ writer for a good many years now. As he nears fifty he is entering his own afternoon, and it is time that his work is credited with the maturity it undoubtedly possesses: its
unashamed intellectualism is only to be admired. (Andrew Pulver)
IN COLD BLOOD
l Oranges from Spain David Park (Jonathan Cape £11.95) Some books which are ‘a good read’ are strangely
‘difficult to interpret or enthuse over.
Every reviewer’s excuse, perhaps, but Oranges from Spain does contain that overall well-written quality which makes it hard either to fault or recommend. Set in Belfast and depicting the impressions of young people growing up in a violent city, the short stories are told in a quiet, measured tone. When violence occurs — the murder of a greengrocer in his shop, a soldier being shot by Irish youths — it has been anticipated well in advance. This reduction of suspense certainly makes you feel very cold hearted, as if you are observing violence with the indifference of someone who has seen it all before. In ‘Killing a Brit‘ a young boy watches as a soldier is shot dead, but he is actually far more interested in the development ofa caterpillar which he keeps in a matchbox in his pocket. This oddly dehumanised attitude appears throughout the book. It highlights the sadness of misplaced
compassion, about which Parks can write very descriptively and lyrically. But it pervades the whole book, and rather than stirring any strong emotions, it leaves you feeling about as incensed and resourceful as a limp lettuce leaf. (Ruth Thomas)
I The Blue Road (Mainstream £12.95) Handbook torthe Diamond Country (Mainstream £12.95) Travels in the Drifting Dawn (Penguin £4.99) The Bird Path (Penguin £5.99) All by Kenneth White. Here is a quartet Jf newly published and reissued work by someone who. until recently, was not without honour, save in his own country. Awarded literary prizes by the French, White‘s books were more readily available in Bulgaria than in his native Scotland. But no more. Penguin Books have now issued two collections previously published by Mainstream and which attracted high critical acclaim. The Bird Path contains White’s longer poems and Drifting Dawn is a prose work described as ‘an itinerary of the mind’. Whatever occasioned past neglect has been more than counterbalanced by the overwhelming welcome given these two works, and so the further two books now published have been keenly anticipated. But perhaps the build-up was overdone. Perhaps the French (White has lived in France for over twenty years) took a particular pleasure in lauding a ‘grand poete’ overlooked in his own country. Perhaps they are fonder of Far Eastern philosophical speculation than we are. In any event, I was underwhelmed.
The Blue Road is a pleasure to read. Like its companion volume it is well produced and White’s fondness for short sentences carries the reader forward without effort. It is an account ofa journey to and through Labrador, an image ofwhich became fixed in his mind at an early age. Places visited and people met are engagingly portrayed with humour and the debunking ofconventional attitudes. White sees himself as an intellectual nomad seeking wholeness and a closer relationship to the universe.
The Diamond Country is not difficult to read either, especially if taken at face value and if the author’s notes and references to yoga-tantra texts do not intimidate. These are the author‘s shorter poems and some of them are very short indeed. For example, here is the whole poem called ‘A snowy morning in Montreal’. ‘Some poems have no title/this title has no poem/it‘s all there.‘ However disarming and given White’s obsession with the haiku and with direct imagery, this seems a bit of a con. I expected more depth and density from someone billed as ‘our leading living writer‘. (Ken Morrice)
90 The List 29 June — 12 July 1990