' KING ELL
I Kenneth Nigel Tranter (Hodder & Stoughton £12.95) Kenneth is Nigel Tranter’s 72nd book, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Seemingly there is an insatiable public appetite out there for this longwinded Mactosh. ‘The birth of a nation and the remarkable man who gave it life’ is the blurb attached, and the portentous tone does not let up in the novel itself. King Kenny is a sort of 9th-century new man with Charlemagne-like ambitions to unite the disparate kingdoms of Scotland. While waiting, he strolls around Fife with the mysterious Eithne (just imagine the singer out of All About Eve, you get the picture) admiring the scenery.
Tranter is obviously keen to let you know all about his meticulous research, and drops the narrative at any excuse for a thinly-veiled lecture on Dark Ages geography. His characters are laughably reasonable, and, judging by their manners, could have stepped out of a Victorian drawing room pausing only to strap on a kilt. For a nation that still had cannibals until pretty recently, this is pushing it a bit. Tranter’s next is rumoured to be called Wallace: the remarkable man who tried to unite the disparate football teams of Edinburgh. In the meantime, this can be a suitable pressie for bearded relatives with a fondness for Runrig and saving Jim Sillars’s Sun columns. (Tom Lappin)
A TASTEFUL TALE
I The Shaft David J. Schow (Macdonald £12.99) Hailed as the. father of ‘splatterpunk’ - modern horror’s fascination with gore — Schow has built his reputation on a series of award-winning short stories and screenplays, including the infamous Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3. His second novel is set in a Chicago that'is closer to the seas of Hell than the Great Lakes. Its winter world of prostitutes and drug dealers centres around a sleazy apartment block with a taste for human flesh. At times The Shaft reads like a ﬁlm that wallows in lurid sex and graphic death. Add to these a giant razor-toothed worm, and you have a novel that would send Freud rushing for his notebook. A lethal combination of good writing and sheer bloody terror, it maliciously subverts as many of the genre’s conventions as it is willing to embrace. (Alan Morrison)
I The Complete Short Stories (£25) and Lasting Impressions (£15.99) V.S. Pritchett (both Chatto & Windus) ‘If you take me naked, you will miss all the etcetera of my life. I am all etcetera.’ When a writer becomes subject to the manipulative
Ian Spring writes in his introduction to Phantom Village, that he ‘has eschewed the traditional essay format for a more fragmented approach.’ ‘The book Is rather a sort of hybrid book,’ he told me. ‘II is In some ways a sort of cultural studies type critique of Glasgow, concentrating on the new Glasgow, but also with a historical dimension. Apart from that there is an autobiographical element- my own memories of Glasgow—which I introduced Into the book.’
He went on to describe how the essay, of sorts, is structured. ‘It moves from my academic analytical perspective and it ends up I think with quite a personal subjective perspective. I think I did that deliberately in the end. I wanted to show that there was a link between the beginning and the end. In the beginning me looking at something supposedly objectively from my stance as an academic and the end purely
Ill! MYTH OF IN! MW GLASGOW
subjectively with my memories of Glasgow.’
But does anyone really believe academics are, or think they are, objective? If not, where is the dilemma between apparent objectivity and pure subjectivity? The options are cultural critique or personal investigation and
exposition. One is damning of nostalgia as a distraction of real issues, the other is the embodiment oi nostalgia, papering over the cracks in Spring's argument.
The prose style of Phantom Village is vague and pompous, as well as clumsy and repetitive. Words like ‘mythology’ and ‘paradox’ are repeated so often, they lose whatever meaning they had. In the dictionary, ’mythology’ is a collection of stories, whether true or untrue, but in Phantom Village this becomes something shameful and dishonest that even the author is guilty 0 .
And i am still not sure what the new Glasgow is. The author did tell me it was a system of ideas that propagated a false sense of community, but I don’t see what this has to do with wine bars and shopping malls that belong to the west as a whole, rather than to any one city. What Spring doesn’t like about his home town is a question of class, not mythology, and now we are in the 903, surely we can do more than complain aboutyuppies. (Thomas Guinn) Phantom Village, The Myth of the New Glasgow, by Ian Spring, is published by Polygon at £8.95.
gaze of a photographer in VS. Pritchett’s short story, ‘The Image Trade’, he finds himselfstripped of all the trivial adornments ofwhich his profession consists. ‘Paperclips, pipe cleaners, and pens’, the objects which separate him from ‘the wilderness of vocabulary‘, are eliminated by this fellow image-maker, as the fragments ofhis identity are rearranged to the whim ofa lens. Pinned like a butterfly into unnatural, contextless stillness, he becomes the victim of his own rules: ‘seeing people and things exactly as they are not’.
In conjunction with Lasting Impressions, a collection of critical essays, and in celebration of his 90th birthday, The Complete Short Stories of V. S. Pritchett has been published, laden with literary tributes. Over a period of 50 years, Pritchett has wandered ‘the wilderness of vocabulary’ with the greatest of ease, from the often disturbing snippets of life of short stories such as ‘The Honeymoon‘. to the critical essays — ‘The Death of Lorca’, ‘The Crystal Spirit‘ — which show a deep love of literature, and a perception of the lives behind the words.
Pritchett specialises in the cluttered shabbiness of human nature; the ‘etcetera’ of which our lives consist. ‘The Sailor’ stumbles desperately around the periphery of others’ lives, imposing a sheen of naval order on the ruins of his failed existence, and the old man of ’The Fly in the Ointment’ embraces humiliation with a stupid smile of optimism. In fiction and in criticism, he darts between ‘different countries, generations’, and moralities: at 90, a man for all seasons. (Kathleen Morgan)
WAR NOT PEACE
I Patriots Sousa Jamba (Viking £13.99) The first novel by this award-winning travel writer portrays his native Angola in the throws of civil war. The adversaries. the MPLA government and South African backed UNITA rebels, crisscross ties of family and friendship as the myth ofone Angola is shattered by the ubiquitous human factor. An anti-war novel we have read before.
Because the conﬂict uses the vocabulary of Europe’s cold war — freedom, capitalism, socialism, tyranny- the timing ofthe novel is surely important. Jamba presents arguments for both sides and takes pains to mention that most Angolans don’t care who wins, just so long as they would stop fighting. Religion is a force as important as economics; tribe and family more important still. But there are no fresh answers and the perspective seems so (West) European I could not help but feel cheated. Only the touches of Faulkner in the narrative showed any real distinction. (Thomas
NON-FICTION DEAD GIJOE
I LIFE: World WarTwo Philip B. Kundhardt Jr (Little. Brown £30) Inevitably one feels uneasy when faced with images ofwar as powerful as those which were captured by the photographers of LIFE magazine. But in this case, it is not so much the pros and cons of war photography
j that are unsettling, but the images'
easy incorporation into what is, in effect, a glossy, attractive coffee-table book. The text is simple. straightforward and quite instructive. But it plays second fiddle to a collection ofquitc extraordinary black and white photographs. and the temptation is to bypass it altogether. This is a picture book where pictures hit hard and leave you reeling. Not that they were all taken in concentration camps, but somehow the image of Hollywood belles dancing with young Gls is more disturbing than heart-warming.
It is difficult to assess the impact that these images must have had in cosy American households, where war seemed a long way off. The photographs’ very existence is a tribute to the skill and dedication of the people who took them. Some original negatives survived against the odds. buried in mud or almost entirely rotted away. One photograph was taken using X-ray film and an improvised box camera. Ofcourse they hold some fascination for everyone — images of war have, after all, been sold time and time again. and for substantial sums of money. Now they are on sale again, and just in time for Christmas. (Miranda France)
I All Played Out Pete Davies (Heinemann £14.99) The greatest game on earth has been shamefully neglected by literate writers in the past, but All Played Out thankfully eschews the clichés. and the result is an absorbing. occasionally infuriating, but ultimately
76 The List 21 December 1990— 10 January 1991