BOUND AND GAGGED
I The Second Prison Ronan Bennett (Hamish Hamilton £13.99) taking his own experience of prison life as a starting point, Ronan Bennett combines a story of psychological torture with a startling terrorist plot to create a thriller which transcends the restrictive boundaries of that genre. This, his first novel, is equal to any thriller on the usual criteria of suspense and excitement, but is superior because of its psychological verisimilitude.
Bennett captures and explores the psyche of his protagonist, Kane, with great conviction. Kane is the bleak and uncompromising leader of an Irish terrorist outfit which is gradually destroyed by the mysterious, disturbing British policeman Tempest. Kane‘s philosophy is healthily pessimistic: his ‘Nothing good can come of life or the people in it; be suspicious, all the time, it is the only way,‘ is reminiscent of Beckett’s epigram ’Blessed are the optimists, for they shall be buried alive.‘ But Kane is also curiously admirable, as the only character interested in integrity rather than expediency.
This book is concerned not only with the punishment of prison, but of life itself: ‘getting out ofthe second prison — that’s the real challenge.‘ Bennett manages to capture such despondency in an extremely readable format. My only concern is that this novel must be so close to his heart that he might not have the material for another one, at least not for some time. Let’s hope that is not the case. (Richard Goslan)
I The Intended David Dabydeen (Secker and Warburg, £13.99) Take four immigrants who, in terms of culture and experiences, are intrinsically at odds yet thrown together by the label ‘ethnic minority‘, put them together as school. oys in an inner London comprehensive and the basis for The Intended has been forged.
Together, they tumble through adolescence and their inter- relationships are explored, the result a rites-of-passage novel with much potential but falling short of the mark.
The focus is on one of the group who, in common with the author, is from Guyana. He has a drive which separates him from the others— to emerge from adolescence learned and to use and develop his intellect. His friends have more mundane ideas, choosing safe careers in commerce or falling into a seedy life ofcrime. This, combined with the cultural and racial tensions of life in Britain creates a hotbed of pressure.
Much of the possible analysis and emotional exploration which this scenario would offer is squandered on the well-trodden path ofa
What future for the spy thriller in the light at glasnost? In the midst oi the last decade’s upheavals in Eastern Europe was former BBC correspondent Tim Sebastian, whose third novel, Saviour’s Gate, is published this month. Sebastian was the man with the moustache, the overcoat, and his linger on the iading pulse oi the Kremlin. Despite the fact that the superpowers are such good friends these days, he believes that the genre is still relevant.
‘Nowadays,’ he says, ‘there are more liction possibilities because there is so much more chaos and instability. They took down one set of structures and haven’t produced another. That brings to the surface so many lactions, so many people struggling tor power, when a new order changes. I think now is a time when a lot of myths are going to be exploded. The Eastern European countries weren’t alter democracy the way we think at it. They wanted rid of Moscow. The landscape has moved, but there are all sorts ot ditterent
I BBC reporter Tim Sebastian.
Sebastian himself was the victim of a '
real-lite spy story, having been expelled lrom the Soviet Union in 1985 in a tit-tor-tat measure, alter thirty or so Russian diplomats and journalists were expelled trom London.
‘it was never a serious accusation,’ he explains. ‘I remember going to the Soviet Foreign Ministry belore I had to leave and saying, “what a pity this has happened,” and them saying, “yes it is a pity it has happened.” And I said, “it’s not my lault”, and they said, “it’s not ours either." ’All this was because the KGB chiei in London had gone over
to the British, but no-one knew that at
the time. Alter he had been recalled to Moscow, the British were suddenly showing him all back in London.
‘There has been all sorts oi speculation about it— mini-subs in Murmansk Harbour— but nobody knows how they did it. But I mean, what a spy story!’
Predictably, Saviour’s Gate is written pretty much to formula, lun but unmemorable. There are smatterings of specialist knowledge and local colour, but at times it is ditlicult to work out whether these are meant to be tunny or not. An undercover meeting outside one at Moscow’s lamous shops, for example, queuing tortoilet paper. The romantic interest involves characters recognisable lrom a Volkswagen car advert - Marcus and Anastasiya — and a two-year-old baby girl for goodness” sake.
The book has a post-glasnost llavour of decay and chaos, and a General Secretary entrapped by radicals on one side, conservatives on the other. Yet its climax has more of the traditional Kremlin strength about it, like the cartoon of Mikhail looking downcast but his hands a bear's claws dripping blood. (Thomas Ouinn)
Saviour’s Gate is published by Simon and Schuster at £13.99.
schoolboy’s fascination with sex.
The narrator’s reminiscences of his childhood in Guyana are, however, vivid and fresh, going some way towards repairing the damage. (Susan Mackenzie)
NON-FICTION MONDD GROSSD
I Shock Value John Waters (Fourth Estate £9.99) The third book on Fourth Estate by gross-out movie maestro John Waters. Shock Value was originally published in 1979 - long before Hairspray made him a household name. Pink Flamingos Obsessives, and even part-time sickos, will thrive on The Prince of Puke‘s tales of his extraordinary accomplices, his childhood fascination with car crashes and his monumental shoplifting sprees with the late Divine. At least he doesn‘t try to pass himself off as a regular Joe.
However. his fannish admiration for multiple murderers prevents the book getting too cosy. A courtroom junkie — the more hideous the crime. the more Waters is turned on - he can‘t resist peering at misery right up close and reporting back in the same fond, cheerful tone he uses to describe the endearing eccentricities of his entourage. Shock Value gives us a vivid and ghoulish picture of the hard-core trial buff tailing Sid Vicious around New York while the latter was on bail, ’because I could tell he’d never live long enough to be tried’. The book everyone with worse taste than you is drooling for (Alastair Mabbott)
The road to domestic bliss is a bumpy one, offering a mixed bag of warmth, mundanity and degradation, writes a thoroughly jiggled Kathleen Morgan. Amos 02, the unacknowledged ‘prophet‘ of today’s Israel, is an observer of the slow pounding of human hearts pitted against one another over domestic and international battlefronts. The Slopes of Lebanon (Vintage £5.99) is a collection of his newspaper articles and political speeches expounding the views which have had him labelled as a traitor by his own government. His hopes ofa compromise between the PLO and Israeli powers that be, ‘from behind clenched teeth‘, and his reluctant advocation of ’partitioning’, are those of a passionate liberal willing to bend his principles in the name of realism: ’Make Peace, Not Love’ is his call. A quietly accurate understanding ofthe human mind constrained by social convention is displayed in his novel My Michael (Vintage £4.99), where love reeks of wilting roses and smelly nappies. Hannah Gonen is inhibited by marriage and motherhood, and recedes into a private world of fantasy and suppressed desires. Oz‘s analysis ofwomanhood against a distant political turmoil is atrier too studied, however, and. although sincere, he sometimes plods where he should soar.
In John Harvey’s The Legend of Captain Space (Fontana £3.50). marriage is an imposition on the lives oftwo individuals; a necessary shock
to the system in order to legitimise the seething ball of energy within Sandy, which demands its own life. Harvey magnifies the mundanity of domestic blisslessness which yawns to the sound ofa piercing baby screech, threatening to swallow the life ofboth parents. The complexities of love on the marital mattress are exposed in this powerful portrayal of the very ordinary.
The unwanted baby becomes a mature, independent woman in Elinor Lipman’s Then She Found Me (Bantam £4.99). The adoptive daughter oftwo former concentration-camp internees, April Epner is a Latin teacher practised in self-denial and nursing a mild interest in the opposite sex. April‘s tranquil life is shattered by the imposition of her natural mother, the ﬂamboyant, forceful hostess ofa chat show with ﬂagging ratings. Lipman, with a clever, prodding humour, examines the claims of natural bonds over the social, portraying the pain of rejection with humorous expertise.
Barbara Howell‘s Joy Ride (Bantam £3.99) begins as anything but. A study of feminine cunning in the shape ofpink varnished talons and bellies held in by eighteen-hour willpower, Howell’s tone is set by the pitiful attempt by a middle-aged novelist, the Joy ofthe title, to
seduce her next source of income. Madeleine is her long-suffering friend who is used, abused and ﬂattered by her, struggling to retain a beliefin a meeting point between the two sexes, and grasping at her idols of female strength from days of old. Feminism at its funniest.
74 The List 22 February— 7 March 1991