light ofan ll-bomb test. The spectacular suicide informs the rest of the book. and is turned into a religious myth by a cult group called the Ers. who move in with Ravel and his family in the middle ofthe desert.
Soon. as the only begotten son. Ravel is apotheosised by the Ers. but. as with every good cult. things get out ofhand and it all ends in tears. But in its end is a beginning. from which comes a neatly understated moral.
The landscape may be arid. but the writing certainly isn‘t. Doane has created a timeless novel. concerned with religion. myth and the failure to communicate or grasp basic truths. The hellish barrenness of the desert emphasises the sense ofstruggle and futility which dominates these characters. and encourages escape through the creation ofpersonal language and religion. Doane's style is terse yet cogent. and shows a mastery of narrative consciousness.
I Tender Mark Childress (Viking £14.99)
I Byron Sigrid Combuchen (Heinemann £14.99)
One downside to being famous is that death does not bring eternal rest — your secret vices are liable to be heated up for an insatiable public. In this respect both Elvis Presley and Lord Byron are lucky. since neither Mark Childress‘ Tender. a fictionalised fan‘s eye view of Elvis‘s glory years. nor Sigrid Combuchen's Byron. which intertwines the poet‘s life with literary investigations in Nottinghamshire. is a whit concerned with delivering a juicy expose. But then neither do they give a clear insight into what lies behind the myth. Instead. the reader is subjected to a banal retelling ofthe Elvis myth in the former. and virtually unreadable prose in the latter.
The stuff of fairy tales. Tender presents an Elvis with no vices other than a weakness for sleeping pills and pink Cadillacs. and no virtues
tame.0w (‘32 .
L- _ .. _ . 75 The List 19 April — 2 May 1991
Leslie Thomas must go through his life battling against preconceptions. But anybody who wrote The Virgin Soldiers and has appeared on daytime chat shows more regularly than Dana surely only has himself to blame. His latest novel, The Loves and Journeys of Revolving Jones, is not the stuff of iconoclasm. The tried and tested image of rough-diamond-Barnardo-boy made good is going to survive a good few years yet if Thomas continues to churn out this kind of fare.
‘Revolving' Davy Jones is an orphan, or as good as; his mother having a whale of a time with squaddies in the big, bad smoke. Butthe similarities with Thomas don’t end there. Davy lives in Barry, as did Thomas; Davy has trouble with girls, as did Thomas; Davy has literary aspirations, as, presumably, did Thomas; Davy eventually runs away to sea and becomes involved in the Spanish Civil
. War, as did Thomas’s lather. Later in
life, Davy sets up a ship repair
business, as did Thomas’s
grandfather. Whatever happened to
novels being the product ofthe
imagination? Although he has written two autobiographies, Thomas seems to have few reservations about using the same material again and changing the names to protect the family.
‘lt’s very difficult to say things that you haven‘t said before,‘ he confides. ‘It’s been a long time since I read the autobiographies and l reallycouldn't tell you what I'd put in them. lthinkthat this is the best novel I have written. lt’s certainlythe bestending.’
This could well be true. The conclusion of the book is both
unexpected and romantic without being ‘
insipid. And, considering that it stretches over 400 hundred pages,
reading Revolving Jones is surprisingly light work, the main character being a likeable sort of ruffian who would probably be played by Bruce Willis in the Hollywood version.
Thomas has always been acclaimed for capturing the language of ‘the commmon man‘ and the dialogue in Revolving Jones is natural and free-flowing. Of a similarly high quality are the little comedy sketches which usually take up about a page and occur frequently throughout the book. As Thomas explains, he produces these vignettes with ease.
‘So many of my family are sailors and sailors live on telling stories. It amazes me when people are told a story in a pub and then just keep it to themselves. lcan't waitto get home, tell my wife, write it down and pass it on to someone else. It’s the bits, the “unconsidered trifles" Shakespeare called them, that illuminate a book. It’s these incidental things that really matter; not the big plots but what goes into them.’ The one unfortunate aspect of this book is that many of the trifles and much of the plot have been said previously, and with greater style, in the autobiography. (Philip Parr)
Revolving Jones is published by Methuen, priced £14.99.
beyond loving his momma. Reduced to such depths of dullness. the singing sensation who could simultaneously shake his leg and the hormones of a thousand girl fans
emerges as potent as a cross between ,
Barbie and John Boy Walton.
Byron fares no better. The starting -
point in (‘ombuchen‘s quest for the truth about the infamous romantic is the real-life incident in 1938. when
: members of the Byron Society stole
the poet‘s body from the family crypt. An ambitious. complex novel.
Byron soon gets lost in a confusion of
incomprehensible and contrived imagery. ()riginally written in Swedish. the clumsy. verbose sentences may be the result of poor
translation. The unfortunate effect is .
to extinguish all remaining life from both Byron and the novel. (Madeline Slaven)
Like abstract art. modern poetry — which too often looks like chopped-up prose — tempts people to dismiss it with an 'I could do that too‘. (iod forbid I ever say it. butl came close to thinking it with Michele Roberts' new collection. Psyche and the Hurricane (Methuen £5.99). With one or two exceptions the poems left me cold: perhaps her poetic prose is best left unchopped and confined to her novels.
Sarah Maguire's Spill Milk (Seeker & Warburg £6). on the other hand. oozes sensuality and unashamedly revels in food imagery — from pilehards on Ryvita to mushrooms (1 la (irecque. Whether she is trying to fathom Jane Austen or remembering a lover. Maguire has an easy way
reading from & signing c0pies of his new book
(Seeker & Warburg £13.99) at 6.30 pm. on Tuesday 30th April, 1991
in John Smith & Son, 57 St. Vincent Street, Glasgow
Please telephone to reserve signed copies
with words — but their easiness does not make them any less poignant. Buy the book and read it every day on the bus.
Which brings tip the question of how you should read a collection of poems— do you start at the beginning " or dive in anywhere? With John Burnside's Common Knowledge (Seeker and Warburg to) I suggest the former approach. Burnside explores a number of complicated themes: angels and suburbia are amusineg twinned in poems which treat the world ofstripey mown lawns and semi-detached houses with a quasi-religious reverence. l lis poems and gobbits of prose reveal a
- preoccupation with the undefined
presence ofsomething invisible — a
hiccup in the atmosphere which
could herald the coming of an angel. The Irish poet Michael Longley