I The Midnight Love Feast Michel Tournier (Collins £13.95) Brought together by their love of the sea. Yves and Nadege fall in love and marry. But their mutual enchantment wears off. They grow distant and decide to separate — with a flourish. All their friends will be invited to a late-night dinner. a medianoche, as the Spanish call it. There they will announce their separation and, when the last guest has gone home. a For Sale sign will be hung on the door and Yves and Nadege will go their separate ways.
But this is a book about the mesmerising powers of the night and, under cover of darkness, the situation changes. Each guest tells a story until the house is filled with talking, each successive story more fantastic than the last. By the time dawn breaks, Yves and Nadege have decided to stay together.
With this modern-day Arabian Nights, Tournier does much to revive the lost tradition of story-telling. There are tales of seduction and revenge. legends from the Middle Ages and parables from the creation. Murderers, Lolitas. factory workers and even the President ofthe French Republic are to be found in the pages of this sometimes bizarre and endlessly fascinating collection of fables. Rightly regarded as one of France’s most gifted writers, Tournier has already won a whole slew of prizes. He should certainly win another this time around. (Miranda France)
ASYA DON’T LIKE IT
I Asya Michael Ignatieff (Chatto & Windus £13.99) In the middle of this book Asya likens herself to ‘the heroine of a bad romance’, thus hitting the nail right on the head. Ignatiest ambitious story mixes revolution, exile, Fascism, Bolshevism and Stalinism with love, loss and treachery, and a series of twists in the plot could have worked well. It’s not in the idea, but in the execution, that the book fails. Ignatieff wants to explore great events and profound themes authoritatively, but doesn’t pull it off. This is just bad writing. Excessive and inappropriate use of adjectives and adverbs irritates. Imagery is poor and often unintentionally laughable. Among many gems are ‘His eyes mounted her body’, which deserves an illustration, and ‘His French was as smooth as a freshly laundered tablecloth’. Oh vraiment? . Unfortunately, wherever a spark ’ of potential gets through, it is quickly I extinguished. The book is full of ‘finely-tuned limbs’, ‘equine thighs’, ‘blood surging through every ﬁbre’, ‘time plummeting downwards’ and ‘strangers pressed flat against the walls’ of Asya’s life. Extraordinary.
The wizardry of Oz
0n the day it was published in 1989, To Know A Woman sold 10,000 copies in Israel, which either means that Amos 02 is a powerfully attractive writer or that the text is riddled with fascinating Mossad messages in code. Being unqualified to recognise coded messages, I shall testify instead to the power of 02’s pen.
Yoel, the novel's hero of sorts, has retired from the Israeli secret service following the mysterious death of his wile. With his daughter, mother and mother-in-law, he takes a house on the outskirts of Tel Aviv and settles down to a life of partial retreat, filling his days with gardening and cleaning, as well as lending off the reproaches of the three women - none of which troubles him as much as the remembered reproaches of his dead wile lvria.
The relationship between Yoel and his deceased spouse- which dominates his thought and therefore the body of the text— is intriguing in that it seems neverto have grown up. They passionately loved and hated one another, alternately punished and then
forgave each other, and were so close that at times they seemed to be telepathic.
Their strange daughter Netta has also been involved in this circle of love and hate. Gawlry and sullen, she suffers from a minor form of epilepsy— possibly psychosomatic- for which her parents blamed each other and hertoo. Looking back, Yoel sees ‘more love between the three of us than was
His wife often accused him of laclr of feeling: ‘You always file every detail away in that awesome memory of yours, you never lose the slightest crumb. But you always process the data
first. After all, that’s your profession.
But on my side it was love.’ It is true that Yoel's tendency is to subject everything to scientific scrutiny. Now, as he goes through a double convalescence- getting over his wife's death and his retirement— he has to learn how to be more interested in people than is professionally necessary. The learning process is fascinating and at times poignant.
02 has a fine, rhythmic way of writing, and a gift for characterisation which one only expects from a very talented author. He also has a great translator in Nicholas de Lange. (Miranda France)
To Know A Woman is published by Chatto & Windus at £13.99.
It‘s a vacuous book. That we should view the Bolsheviks as baddies is initially conveyed through the fact that they stub their cigarettes out on your carpet. But the most depressing thing is the romance. ‘In her fawn muslin dress, her body just budding, she discovered from the flush of (the young officers‘) faces, the sensation of their hands in the small of her back, the insistent pressure oftheir thighs against her hip, that she had become a creature that men could desire.‘
I had to remind myselfthat this was published by Chatto & Windus, not Mills & Boon. Not worth reading, even for the laughs. (Cath Boylan)
l The Stories Of Eva Luna Isabel Allende (Hamish Hamilton £13.99) ‘1 want the reader to cry, to laugh, to be enchanted,’ says Isabel Allende of her work; and enchantment and magic are the essence ofthis collection.
The Stories Ovaa Luna shimmer from the pages like carefully fashioned jewels: sharp as the pain of death, lucid as Eva Luna’s wit, ebullient as her irrepressible lust for life and as warm as her erotic sensuality. For these are tales of passion, death, torture, stupidity and inhumanity — but also of courage, joy, sensuality and, above all, love. As Allende herselfsays, it is ‘a celebration oflife despite the violence of the world’.
As is to be expected from the author of The House Of The Spirits, her widely-acclaimed first novel, the tales are diverse in their range and exuberant in their telling. ‘Tell me a story you never told anyone before. Make it up for me,’ asks RolfCarle of his lover Eva Luna. Thus unfolds a web ofeccentrically colourful characters and fables spun from the South American psyche. The cast ranges from Belisa Crepusculario, the itinerant peddler ofwords, to ‘Tosca’, a deluded opera addict who lives out a desperate Madame Butterfly fantasy. ‘To exorcise the demons of memory,’ Allende says. ‘it is sometimes necessary to tell them as a story.’ These stories are as beautiful and as tragic as the demons ofSouth America itself. (Ann Vinnicombe)
THAT’S ALL FOLKS
I Surface Tension Greg Snow (André Deutsch, £13.99) Nicholas Taig oozes beauty, charm and intellect. His tireless arrogance tells him so. Before Death, however. he desires firstly Fame and secondly Fortune, so he lives in a colour supplement, dresses from the catwalks and worries that his society girlfriend may be a smidgin undynamic to impress the vulgar, pseudo-celebrities whom he calls ‘friends’.
Striving to impress, he holds a dinner-party in his flat (so en vague) and promptly becomes a living cartoon. He can fall from high buildings and merely leave an imprint - Coyote-style, or run at 50 mph, his feet never touching the ground ~ he is Roadrunner. Here begins an ingenius farce which brings Tom Sharpe or a monied Martin Miller to mind, yet is akin to neither. Soon, Taig is the prisoner of a shady American intelligence organisation, whose protége’s include ‘the disappearing boy’ and ‘Mavis. creator of biblical storms‘. Will the Alice in Wonderland-style tea party, where his captors ‘divide game pie with a protractor and a machete'. provide an escape route?
One expects a finale to match the rapid-fire build up but is disappointed. Nevertheless, this is a most colourful first novel with vats of character. Consistently sharp, consistently funny and. for those who fancy a spot of social climbing, an extremely cautionary tale. (Susan Mackenzie)
The List 22 February - 7 March 199] 73