fspnmc BOOKS SPECIAL“—
HOW TD WRITE PROPER
I English Our English (And How To Sing It) Keith Waterhouse (Viking £10.99) The theory of this. Waterhouse‘s ‘civilian companion' to his highly acclaimed book on newspaper style. is that anyone should be able to write clear. expressive English. even without understanding the grammatical workings ofthe language. Waterhouse. in his role as conductor .of the orchestra of our vocabulary. demonstrates how to ‘tune a flat sentence‘ in order for our words to ‘sing'.
This is all very well. but don‘t ask me who would be prepared to fork out £11 for an extended essay which lacks order and index. But at least the author is open to linguistic change and development. unlike the miserable old pedants who continually drone on about the misuse of‘hopefully'. At the end of the day. old Keith done no‘ bad. and he certainly learnt me a thing or two about writing. (Richard Harrison)
I Lethal Innocence: The Cinema of Alexander Mackendrick Philip Kemp (Methuen £17.99) With the ever-popular ll’lzisky (ia/ore.’( 1948) and the less heartily received The Maggie ( 1953). Glasgow Art School graduate Sandy Mackendrick conjured up two of the most lasting screen images ofScotland. and is often cited as one of the country's greatest film-makers. He was. however. born in Boston. and spent many of his formative creative years under contract at the terribly English enclave of Ealing Studios. where his great successes included the tearjerking Mume ( 1952) and the mordant comedy The Lady/(fliers (1955). Later. he tried to fit his perfectionist style to the demands of the Hollywood mainstream — quite brilliantly in the case of the New York media satire Sweet Smell of .S‘uccess ( 1957) — before retiring hurt into the groves of (‘alifornian academe.
Such widely differing movies made under widely differing circumstances without any apparent unifying impulse behind them could prove awkward going for the hapless critical biographer. but it is to Philip Kemp’s enduring credit that throughout this absorbing study he largely refuses to force the auteurist cap where it doesn't quite fit. working around the broadest themes of innocence and experience. Kemp gives proper weight to each of Mackendrick's very individual films. building tip a case for him as a director who always served his material. rather than the other way
around. Portraying a likeable man who would brook no compromise in the
82'l‘hc List 5~- IXApril 1991
; s|aves and
For all their enthusiasm, the reviewers have underestimated or at least misjudged Caryl Phillips‘ new book, Cambridge. One can understand their motives: it is, after all, a book by a British black writer about slavery, and the obvious thing to do is to praise the author's damning indictment of white racism. In fact there is no such easy definition of heroes and villains in the novel
0f the two characters we are invited to sympathise with most, the obvious candidate for the position of hero is Cambridge, the slave, and yet his part in the novel is low-key. Phillips has resisted the temptation to make him a paragon of wisdom and long-suffering perseverance. Cambridge is not a self-made man — he owes his scholarliness to a far-sighted owner in London and a certain English school-marm in Blackheath.
Instead Emily, who goes to the West Indies to visit herlather’s sugar plantation, gets the lion‘s share of the narrative. She has more racist words in hervocabulary than I’ve had hot dinners. And yet she is dealt with sympathetically, Phillips finding a lot in herwith which to identify: ‘She feels marginalised in English society because she‘s a woman in the same waythat I‘ve felt marginalised because I’m black,’ he explains. ‘She has to make a journey, in a sense, in orderto escape a marriage, which I guess is similarto the journey I had to make when I left college and decided that I didn’twant to sitaround waiting to become 3 Trevor MacDonald clone. I had to do something, and for me, as
well as for Emily, that involved a journey to the Caribbean.‘
It was a conscious decision to make the protagonist female: Phillips believes men to have ‘an enormous capacity for self-deception’ and points out that the men who went to the Caribbean in the late 18th century were braggarts going to make a fast buck, and bringing all sorts of self-confident cultural baggage with them. A lonely, journal-writing gentlewoman with time on her hands would be better equipped forobservation.
Research forthe novel involved consulting diaries and novels of the period to absorb the vocabulary and rhythms of sentences. Paul Edwards, a lecturer at Edinburgh University, double-checked the language for any anachronisms. Phillips declaresthat it was immensely hard to write a novel using a language and perspective so different from his own: ‘I don‘t think there’s any point in a writer attempting to do something that they know they can do. First of all, having written several books already, llelt a bit more
confident that I could tackle something which seemed to be way beyond my experience. Secondly, it kind of wasn’t up to me. When you start hearing the woodpecker pecking away at the back of your brain, and the voices becoming more and more insistent, lthink you have to try to give them a voice; without sounding too much of a wanker, you have to try to give birth to the characters.’
Although Phillips was born in the West Indies, his ownjourney of self-discovery took place after leaving college when he decided to attempt a homecoming. The experience was not without its problems: ‘I had to try to fit into the Caribbean having grown up like a regular English piss-head, wanting to go to the pub and the football. lthought I‘d getthere and think “I'm home! Now I can be lree!“. None of that shit happened—all that happened was I'd think “Jesus Christ, Idon't really fit in here either. Who am I trying to kid?" For years there was a nonsensical to-ing and fro-ing.’
Phillips was not the only one: ‘If people do arrive there saying “Help me, help me, I’m sick of living in Britain and being called a wog," the locals‘ reaction is, “It's not my problem, you don‘t have to go back there, stay here." Then after a week you look around you and say “Where is The Guardian, where can I get a pint? Where are the arty subtitled movies? I want to go backto England . . ‘
In a sense Phillips is doing what both Emily and Cambridge would like to do- benefit from the best of both worlds. Haphazard as it may be, commuting between Britain and the West Indies has provided him'with some sort of a happy medium. (Miranda France) Cambridge is published by Bloomsbury, priced £13.99.
search for the artistic truth in each and every project. Kemp shows how the stability oftenure at Iialing threw tip the ideal working conditions for an idealist like Mackendrick. and details the studio manhandling and slew of disappointments that dogged the years of frustration in the (ills. It is both an indication of the shabby condition towhich Hollywood had descended during that difficult period and a warning to today‘s prospective producers that a shining talent like Mackendrick was forced out of the industry by the small minds and short-term vision of the moneymen. ('I‘revorJohnston)
LOST IN SPACE
I Imaginary Homelands Salman Rushdie ((iranta Books £17.99) The title of this book. Salman Rushdie's collected essays and criticism of the past decade. sums up the strengths and sadnesses of the man‘s career. The positive side is that. from .llitlnig/ii's Children on. Rushdie has produced imaginative re-creations ol the countries he calls his ow n; the sadness stems from the fact that.
given the continued threat to his life. the only homelands he has are imaginary; he still cannot participate in real life.
Rushdie himself. in the book‘s final essay. 'Why I Have Embraced lslam'. expresses the belief that matters are improving; that his meeting last Christmas live with some Muslim clerics will have paved the way for a reconciliation between the author and his co-religionists. While one hopes his analysis is correct. the crucial question remains as to the creative price he will have paid for his safety: the language here »- ‘What 1 know of Islam is that tolerance. compassion and love are its very heart' -~ sounds disconcertineg like a statement of confession atha show trial.
'l‘he bulk of this collection. however. is exuberant and invigorating. particularly memorable being Rushdie's bitingly accurate critique. in ‘()utside The Whale. of the whole industry that grew tip in the mid—811s around the nostalgia for the last days of the Raj. But it is. alas. difficult to see Rushdie writing with such wicked wit again. (Stuart Bathgate)
I Patrimony Philip Roth (Jonathan (‘ape £12.99) lt is impossible not to have mixed feelings about someone who keeps notes during his father's terminal illness in order to write the book of the death later on. Why would you do that'.’ As catharsis. would be the stock answer. But it must also have been intended to ttig the reader's heart-strings. Although ghoulish in concept. l’urrimmiy does this. and without repelling us.
Philip Roth's story of his irascible father Herman. brought down at 86 by a huge tumour in his head. works on your sympathies for old age and infirmity. your hypochorulriacal fears. your guilt-feelings about your parents. and your repressed terror of death. It is not hard to empathise with the old man whose head is invaded by a growing mass of material ‘a little like your fingernail'. who suffers a biopsy made by the insertion of a long needle up through the soft roofof his mouth. who is reduced to eating through a straw and seeing through only one part of one eye. Nor is it hard to empathise with the son. who witnesses the