I Boone Brooks Hansen and Nick Davies (Hamish Hamilton £13.99) The life and times ofcult figure Eton Boone are exposed in documentary fashion through the varied perspectives of friends. enemies. lovers and relatives — to confuse matters. the latter two groups are largely one and the same. given Boone‘s Oedipal tendencies.
Boone wins popular acclaim through his remorseless satire of the American Dream and contemporary idols— one of the funniest episodes involves his desecration ofJack Kerouac. Boone‘s untimely death even seems a hapless parody of James Dean. He has an uncanny ability to reach inside the souls of others and extract their vulnerability for public consumption - a quality which is both delightful and menacing. and ultimately leads to his own degeneration.
The work is such an authentic period piece of the 605 and 70s that it's easy to forget that the enigmatic Boone is merely a fictional character. Because ofthe unreliability of the many narrators, his real nature remains a mystery — it‘s hard to decide if he‘s a malicious parasite or a modern-day Messiah. Whatever. this is an exciting and innovative novel. (Charlie Llewellyn)
I Emily Bronte: A Chalnless Soul Katherine Frank (Hamish Hamilton £14.99) There is something in a Bronte that makes the heart weep.
Immortalised against a background ofrugged Yorkshire moors and love-starved childhood. the Bronte's have collectively assumed the status of their wretched heroes: passionate. unfulﬁlled and tragically ﬂawed.
To escape the romantic. tourist-touting image of the family cult is to risk paring the ﬂesh from some very fragile bones. In Emily Bronte: A Chainless Soul. Katherine Frank attempts to free her heroine from the shackles ofthe conventional star-gazing myth. by thumping the author of ththert’ng Heights firmly on to the examination table.
Frank. in a sympathetic and honest biography. applies a bit ofamateur psychology to what proves to be an elusive subject: Emily is documented largely in her own creative voice. and the voices of others. Labelling her a neurotic anorexic is a brave, and possibly reckless step, even given the abundance of food. eating and starvation imagery in Emily’s work. Although far from dewy-eyed. Frank is a touch liberal in her poetic licence: her portrayal of Emily verging on Scarlett O’Hara with a food disorder. (Kathleen Morgan)
I A Passionate Apprenticeship: The Early Journals of Virginia Woolf ed. Mitchell A. Leaska (The Hogarth Press £25) These previously unpublished journals begin with a record ofthe Stephen family‘s hectic social round. from which the 15-year-old Virginia escapes to her 'beloved’ books. ‘the only calm thing in this house‘. Most of the later entries are travel accounts: there are family holidays, edgy with heat and boredom (‘Broiling again. Father
pursued me up to my room — my refuge and hiding place. and took me out forawalk . . . Ilost my temper terribly.'). essays. and eloquent descriptions of foreign countries (‘the dull white enamel of the
road. . . the little square farms, washed salmon pink'. she writes of Italy.
The journals are meticulously edited —— though Leaska resorts to the old Freudian myth that Virginia's sexual abuse by her step-brothers was merely ‘incestuous fantasy" — and offer a fascinating insight into the emergence of an extraordinary writer. (Elizabeth Burns)
I Classical Architecture Robert Adam (Viking £30) So here I am leafing through this coffee table of a hardback thinking. ‘is the garage door really in the tradition of the carriage arch'?‘ when this voice comes out of nowhere and says Yes, yes, yes. This is what we like. None of your modem stuff, give me some
G reek columns. a temple roofand a tympanum any day. . . and I am thinking. this is it my first truly hallucinatory experience. even though I have never taken drugs and I keep my alcohol intake as low as possible. honest, but this voice which is Londoner and nouveau riche and square mile is coming straight out of my potted Calathea on the window sill . . . Doors I like the best. I aliir'ays notice doors. Drove past the Lloyd's building once as a seed, that Richard Rodgers, wrote South Pacific, doesn’t/(now whatadoor is. . .
Only by shutting the book can I make the voice stop because when I open it again . . . Rustieated orders, garden elevations. . . (Thomas
There seems to be an irresistible desire amongst blographers to link ‘The Golden Age' photographers with cities. One would think that Brassai had never set loot outside of Paris, Cartier Bresson was a prisoner to Moscow and, now, that Sudek's lack of an arm prevented him from ever escaping Prague.
This book's subtitle “Poet of Prague’ is shown to be wholly inadequate as a description of the man to whom it is dedicated. There are enough oi his landscapes at this beautiful city to iustiiy the title, but so much more besides. Many oi the photographs are titled ‘On the window ledge ol my studio’ or ‘View from my studio window’. They emphasise the tact that this is a photographer who not only excels in the reportage of his illustrious contemporaries but who is also completely at home with still lite.
Sudek lost his arm in the First World War and several of the sell portraits in the book display a distinct reluctance to display his disability. His lack of
security about his condition seems iurther emphasised in several photos which show broken mannequins lying abandoned in a field. it he did feel inhibited by his condition he had no cause. ‘A Photographer’s Lile’ makes it indisputable that the camera has the potential to produce works oi art. There is an other-worldly character to his views ol Prague and a haunting quality
to virtually all at his still lives. In a career which spanned seven decades, one expects a collection at a photographer’s best work to be impressive. But one cannot look at this volume without feeling that Sudek never took a bad (or even an average) photograph in his life. (Philip Parr)
A Photographer’s Lite by Josef Sudek (John Murray £35).
I Dear Mr Gorbachev ed. Lloyd 8. Fischer (Canongate £14.95) The fact that this book has been published at all is testimony to Mikhail Gorbachev’s radical influence since coming to power in March 1985. This scoop for Canongate includes representative letters out ofovcr 120,000 which have been sent to the Soviet leader. mostly after his appeal in his own book Perestroika for correspondence to express ‘a process ofworld demoeracy.‘
There are letters from young and old. the famous and the unknown. A juvenile Canadian asks ‘please stop acid rain all over the place‘, and an exuberant Italian aristocrat describes Gorbachev as ‘the most beautiful fairytale come true'. Somehow I don‘t think the citizens of Moscow would agree, which brings us to the sad irony of this collection — the disparity between (iorbachev‘s international reputation (he collects the Nobel Peace Prize this month) and his crumbling status in his own country.
Professor Bill Wallace of Glasgow University provides excellent introductions to each chapter. and the diversity of letters included makes this, in a slightly voyeuristic sense. a worthwhile and enjoyable collection. (Richard Goslan)
REFLECTION WITHOUT AGGRESSION
I The Snows oi Yesteryear: Portraits lor an Autobiography Gregor von Rezzori ((‘hatto (it Windus £16.99) Despite the archaic tones ofthe title, Rezzori. author of Memoirs ofan Anti-Senate. declines the temptation to slip into sentimental nostalgia in these recollections of his childhood. Instead. he describes the feudal world in what is now the Ukraine with an affectionate but critical eye. The author delivers portraits of the chief figures of his childhood with a comfortable blend of tenderness. humour and cynicism. We enter this rogues” gallery with Cassandra. the outlandish. ‘salt ofthe carth‘ nanny, who gleefully imparts misleading hints on the secrets ofsexual intimacy to her young ward. She is followed by his obsessive. neurotic mother. intent on cocooning herself and her children against an increasingly hostile world. and constantly at odds with his boisterous father. Lastly. he introduces his extraordinary governess. Bunchy. a former companion of Mark Twain. Rezzori bewails the loss ofa textured and colourful mosaic of class. culture and race that eventually became submerged in the quagmire ofcommunist conformity. This is a superbly engaging book. and although translated from German, loses none of its vitality or rich semantic significance. (Charlie Llewellyn)
92 The List 7 - 20 December 1990