l Among the British: An Outsider's View Richart Critchfield (Hamish Hamilton £17.99) Take a journalist. Put him in a country he knows plenty about, but of which he has no first-hand knowledge. Then ask him to write about it. This is what the Economist did to American journalist Richard Critchfield, who took the project further, spending a year in Britain and speaking to everyone, from Jimmy Boyle to Barbara Cartland. The result is a whopping great almanac of a book, a fascinating look at Britain in 1990 and a raking through all the old mythologies which so entice our American friends.
Fresh from the publishers, the book is already out of date (Alas poor Nicholas Ridley . . .) but it is nevertheless a useful reference book and source of intriguing data: apparently, for example, the National Health Service is Europe‘s largest employer after the Red Army. One criticism, Mr Critchfield, you do us too much justice, I suspect. And a First Class stamp costs 20p, not 18p. (Miranda France)
A DOG’S LIFE
I Dog Fat Dog Wensley Clarkson (Fourth Estate, £12.95) If the quality and content of tabloid journalism ever made you wonder about the methods behind the bylines, then Clarkson’s book is a salutary read.
It is not my intention to waste many words on this pathetic and unapologetic account of our hero's adventures on behalf of his news editor. Suffice to say that it is written in a tabloid-speak, Boys’ Own style that quickly becomes tiresome and boring.
If one episode in the book sums up its tone, it is his account of a tussle with a fellow hack over a family album in a widow’s home. Her husband had been killed in dubious circumstances the day before, but our man had more sympathy with his compadre who lost out in the fight than any grief the wife was suffering. But, never mind, they both had a good laugh about it the following week in 3 Fleet Street bar.
‘00 away you horrible little man‘, Dick Emery once shrieked at a 6ft-plus journo. Measuring people, as I do, from the shoulders up, I'm with Dick on that one. (Joe Owens)
The worst of times
James Hanley is the stuil that nightmares are made oi—the best ones. ills language, intense and compassionate as his world is diseased and vicious, reveals an intense understanding oi the cesspool oi human nature and the capacity lor good and bad, even at once.
Beading his work, most at which is grim and all at which is uncompromisingly honest, causes the decades oi neglect oi an author comparable with Joyce and Faulkner, to dissolve, as the pompousness oi the British literary world is slapped about the head. Hanley’s resurrection irom the closet oi ‘obscenity’, into which he was thrown by virtue oi middle-class gutlessness in the 303, is imminent: Andre Deutsch are publishing three oi Hanley’s most powerlul novels - the iamous, though little read Boy (1931), the ilickering portrait at London lile during the Blitz, No Directions (1943) and the story oi a reawakening to the void oi reality alter tiiteen years’ imprisonment, An End and A Beginning (1958).
Boy, withdrawn irom publication alter lour years because at alleged obscenity, is a work at incredible bravery. Cultivating his own experiences oi lile at sea, having cast away irom his Liverpool youth at the
age at thirteen, Hanley‘s prose batters relentlessly the consciousness oi his readerwith its halting naivety. It is the story at childish optimism, saturated by the clammy touch oi the sea and kicked in the lace by a hopeless adult cynicism.
Fleeing the mechanical strength ol a tyrannical lather and a lite ol enforced imprisonment within the suffocating heat ol a ship’s bowels, Arthur Fearon stows away on a vessel bound lor Alexandria. Cowering irom the prowling, starved sexuality oi the ship's crew and cradling a secret beliel in himseli, the boy is despised,
exploited and ground to an isolated kernel oi lear. Alter a grimy sexual awakening in an Egyptian brothel he is dragged down the path to adulthood and ultimately, death, still a child.
Hanley’s vision at human potential, thrashed by social circumstance to a dehumanised pulp, re-emerges in his novel, An End and A Beginning. The same crushing oi a struggling identity and the torrid journey towards destruction is suggested. However, this victim oi Iile's undigniiied agony lives. Released irom prison alter lilteen years, Peter Fury struggles to hammer some wretched identity irom Ireland’s stubborn bedrock beneath the glare oi condemning eyes. Possessing mere iragments oi a lamily exploded by their opposing desires, Fury's pathetic rummaging in the debris oi a past characterised by rage and resentment is unlorgettable. Hanley’s Ireland, locked in silence, is a land at lolklorlc potency: ‘A hungry old bitch’ whose inhabitants, like the sea-laring leeches oi Boy, ‘live on the scroll at her back.’
William Faulkner once described Hanley’s work as being ‘like a good clean cyclone.’ Five years alter Hanley’s death in 1985, it continues to purge the brain with an irresistible violence, demanding with relreshing might that there is Iile beyond the glossy paperback. (Kathleen Morgan) James Hanley’s Boy (£11 .99 hardback), No Directions (£5.99 paperback) and An End and A Beginning (£6.99 paperback), are all published by Andre Deutsch.
OUT OF THIS WORLD
I Bury My Heart Atw.ii. Smith's Brian Aldiss (Hodder & Stoughton £13.95) Science fiction. as a literary genre, has a history which stretches as far into the past as it spins into the
. future. It has gained utmost respect
in the eyes of the money-makers, but, unfortunately, still leaves a bad taste in the mouths of many literati.
‘What’s the objective?‘ they ask, and answering them come the kaleidoscopic experiences of Brian Aldiss -- from his humble beginnings in the vividly portrayed bookshops and two-bit publishers of the 405 and 505, to his big-boy status among the science-fiction writers of today.
Bounding along, names are dropped like hailstones, and forcefully asserted opinions, on publishing, writing and life in general, grappled with and tossed by the wayside.
His self-deprecating manner, which barely conceals an underlying arrogance, makes one doubt Aldiss‘ sincerity. but the final assessment is a comprehensive overview, a sprinkling of sharp anecdotes and several startling insights on the publishing world. (Susan Mackenzie)
TO FORGIVE, DIVINE
I l Remember Nothing More Adina Blady Szwajger (Collins Harvill £14). Vivid, harrowing. relentless. Adina Blady Swajger’s memoirs of the war years surge across the pages. Fair enough to ‘pass‘, she was smuggled from the ghetto in January of 1943 and worked in her native Warsaw as a courier for the Jewish Fighting Organisation. In her home town, she risked recognition, betrayal, death, every day as she arranged safe houses, distributed
money, helped escapees in hiding, and survivors of the uprising who continued to fight, with other guerrilla groups, in the forests around the city.
This document is not a literary masterpiece. Both style and content make it hard to read. Scenes and incidents are recalled. with gaps and out ofsequence, as this brave. tired, ageing woman speaks to us from another world, of things we hav .- never had to bear and which for most of her life she has tried to suppress.
For Dr Swajger qualified as war started, and worked in the Warsaw Children‘s Hospital. Her earliest professional duties were to shorten remaining lives and make inevitable death as easy as possible. To save them from the transports she fed morphine to her last tiny patients. She has never forgiven herself. (Sally McPherson)
104 The List 17 - 23 August 1990