FICTION A RIGHT HERBERT
I Creed James Herbert (Hodder and Stoughton £12.95) ‘You’ve never read a horror story like it’ say the publicists. Well, they‘ve got to say something haven’t they? Herbert has apparently broadened his horizons and gone for a touch oferoticism and more than a smidgeon ofcomedy in his story of paparazzi. Joe Creed.
Astonishingly enough, for someone so long rooted in the cavernous badlands of bloodsucking thingies. Herbert's humour usually works very well. He parodies himself (admittedly the easiest form of humour) and his genre (the second easiest) often. and shows a surprising reluctance to build any sort of tension. If any creeps in, he squashes it with a snide aside to make you remember that it’s all just a book.
What irritates as much as Herbert’s latest group ofaforementioned bloodsuckers is his childishness or (more accurately) his adolescence. The ‘eroticism’ is no more than a 14 year-old‘s wet dream fantasy but, more unexpectedly, his description ofthe life ofthe photo-journalist shows the kind ofcliche’d (un)idealism that most of us grow out of at eighteen. Journalists are sleazy, paparazzi are scum, socialites have skeletons in their closet: simple life by a simpleton’s writer. (Philip Parr)
I The Snapper Raymond Doyle (Seeker and Warburg, £11.95) Sharon Rabbitte is pregnant. No one knows who the father is, but the snapper is on its way. To her mother Veronica, this is just the latest in a long struggle to instil some sense of morality and responsibility into her rampaging brood, a task negated by the lax and impulsive nature of her husband Jimmy Snr. She must accept this latest setback with a sigh and resignation.
Capturing perfectly the run-down Irish suburb in which it is set, the acutely realistic scenarios, carried along by staggering characterisation, are peppered with murderously funny dialogue. The Snapper is the stuff that classic sit-coms are made of. Sell the television rights Mr Doyle, and make yourself a rich man. (Susan Mackenzie)
AUTOBIOGRAPHY OUT OF ISRAEL
l Alarms And Excursions Naomi
WE HAPPY FEW
Misery looms large in Scottish life these past two centuries, judging, at least, by the evidence of Christopher Smout and Sydney Wood’s new book, Scottish Voices 1745-1960. Poverty, malnutrition and premature death was the fate of most of our antecedents; typical employment consisted of pulling up turnips day after day in drizzling sleet, and this on a diet in which oatmeal was regarded as a luxury. All so different from the home life of our own dear queen.
The picture painted by this thematically-arranged anthology is not, however, one oi unrelieved gloom; nor is the book merely a sociological document of the life of ordinary people. Middle-class writers tell of an easier life, and the quality of some oi the prose - there are excerpts from Liz Lochhead and Hugh MacDiarmid, among others- mitigates the misery. Most of the ‘contributors’, though, were simply people who recorded their lives as a matter oi course: in Calvinist communities, with their emphasis on moral sell-scrutiny, keeping a journal was almost compulsory.
Perhaps influenced by this Calvinism, the chapters on sex and drinking are among the shortest in the book. Nonetheless, they contain some gems: there is the pub which advertised itself with the unbeatable slogan ‘Drunk lorthree bawbees, and mortal for threepence’; while laugh-a-minute MacDiarmid complains about the things which make modern pubs intolerable-all those little things, like ‘music, women, glaring Iights.‘
While Scottish Voices is not at all polemical, Smout and Wood choosing to present their material with the minimum of comment, the book could still do with a bit more comment on what unites these voices, in what ways their experience differs from that of other countries. The location in Scotland seems all that many of the writers have in common: the young Dundee millworker whose hand was mutilated by the machinery, for instance, surely had more in common with his Lancashire and Birmingham contemporaries than with Edinburgh's leisured classes.
Space, no doubt, was at a premium, but a couple more chapters, to add to the selection which includes leisure, school-life, crime, and travel, would have helped to round off the picture oi Scottish life. Our changing attitudes to the English, from David Hume’s inferiority complex to the Hampden
howls of execration for Jimmy Hill, is an important omission; while some account oi how different groups of Scots-Highlanders, Lowlanders, rural and industrial workers- have regarded each other would also be instructive. The final chapter, on ‘The Outsiders’ Highlands’, does go a little way towards this, but it still seems a strange choice with which to end the book: Queen Victoria’s is not a Scottish voice.
These criticisms apart- and the authors would hardly claim that their book was the last word on the subject— Scottish Voices, with its wealth of material about our material poverty, is a worthy supplement to Smout’s two seminal, more academic works on Scottish social history.
Scottish Voices 1745—1960, by TC. Smout and Sydney Wood, is published by Collins at £16.95.
Sheperd (Collins £16). This fascinating and illuminating memoir, of an English woman‘s testing 30 years in Israel, explores, with both gravity and humour, all aspects of Israeli life, from childbirth to the intifada.
The strength of the work lies in its blend of personal feeling and objectivity, a quality which the writer owes to her dual heritage of an English background and Jewish faith. The book is sympathetic to Israel's struggle for survival, yet critical of its aggressive stance in the Middle East. It points, sometimes laughingly, at the development and inconsistencies of the ‘ultra-socialist’ policy.
The work concludes with an absorbing analysis ofthe increasing troubles on the West Bank, where, it
seems, the Palestinians follow the example of the Israelis in their battle for a homeland. Naomi Sheperd highlights the Orwellian irony ofthe Oppression of a people by a race that has itself been viciously repressed throughout history. Her account is refreshingly compassionate to all parties, and quietly hopeful. (Charlie Llewellyn)
I GLASGOW HERALD PEOPLE’S PRIZE FOR FICTION Last chance to fill in your ballot form (available at every local library) and cast your vote for the winner of this £5000 prize. Deadline 31 Aug.
I JOHN SMITH 57 St Vincent Street.
Thurs 23 6.30pm. Professor T.C. Smout and Sidney Wood will talk about Scottish Voices: 1 745—1960 (Collins £16.95). See panel.
I OPEN WORLD POETICS Porter's Lounge. Sauchiehall Street (next to Cannon cinema). Info: Norman Bissell 959 6033 or Catriona Oates 334 6480.
Tues 28 7.30pm. Video excerpts of Kenneth White's talk on Geopoetics lfollowcd by discussion.
I GRAEME MURRAY GALLERY 15 Scotland Street. 556 6020.
Thurs 26 7.30pm. £1 .50 from gallery (£2 on night). Thomas A. Clark. poet and contemporary writer will present ‘lnto the Order of'l'hings’.
The List 24 - 30 August 1990 93