j ABACHNOID ANGST
I Spider Patrick McGrath (Viking ; £13.99) In his challenging new novel, ' Patrick McGrath slowly and cleverly leads us into the quiet hell of the psychotic mind. Spider sits at the window of his lodging, listening to the cumbersome movements of his landlady, and steeping his wretched thoughts in the stuff of his childhood. Lost in the narrow, rickety streets and choking fog of 303 London, Spider writes his own damnation on the grubby pages of his journal.
Horace Cleg, Spider’s father, is a shadow of some Lawrencian male, brutalised by his own weakness and the certainties of a poor, passionless existence. Through Spider’s eyes, we see him as the conspirator, bound, because of his self-imposed exclusion from the warmth which envelopes his wife and son, to destroy them. Hilda Wilkinson, a ﬂeshy, peroxide mountain of a prostitute, is to be his weapon.
The central question of McGrath's novel concerns what happens on the night that Mrs Cleg finds her husband and Hilda grinding in the shed at the bottom of the vegetable garden. Through Spider’s frantic analysis of that fateful night, and the following weeks of tortured living with the vision of the grotesquely curvaceous Hilda squeezed into his mother’s delicate clothes, McGrath gives us some understanding of the bizarre, contradictory world of the schizophrenic. A novel of intense imaginative power, Spider leads the reader elegantly down a horrible, slippery slope. (Kathleen Morgan) ;
I Hide and Seek Ian Rankin (Barrie & Jenkins £12.99) This is Fife-born Rankin’s ﬁfth novel, and his second revolving around the character of Detective John Rebus. The new l work is a considerable development, I in tone and especially in its i explosively dramatic denouement, ' on the first Rebus book, 1987’s Knots and Crosses, which was also set in Edinburgh. A generally disliked
ex-paratrooper, son of a stage hypnotist. Rebus is a kind of anti-heroic Morse minus the surfeit
of classical references. In Hide and Seek, he, and the reader, discover a dead junkie in crucifixion pose, replete with candlelight and pentagrams scrawled on the squat walls. Thus begins a
whodunnit-quest through drugs, AIDS, Calton Hill rent boys and a businessmen’s masonic mafiosi — it’s
a sad society where social status and moral corruption by no means correlate. This novel is certainly no Tourist Office advert for Auld Reekie, preferring instead to reveal the side of the capital that the
tourists never see.
Throughout, the narrative is gripping without being sensationalist; Hide and Seek is a tightly-scripted drama with sundry nice touches. The love-hate relationship between Rebus and his ‘shoeleather’ sidekick Holmes (unfortunately named — his boss is called Watson) is neatly drawn. A cameo of a blind seer, Mr Vanderhyde, who humanises the book’s concern with the religion-witchcraft dichotomy, is another highlight. Rankin’s unpretentious ease with the stock conventions of the crime thriller is impressive and augurs well for future Rebus tales. A more enduring appeal, and one more particular to Rankin, lies in his unmelodramatic, effortlessly acute, and accurate conveyance (unlike that of the current TV drama Advocates) of the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Edinburgh’s contemporary social structures. (Paul W. Hullah)
I Moroccan Tramc Dorothy Dunnett (Chatto and Windus £13.99) ‘My mother is fat and fifty and nosy. I hate her.’ Thus speaks Dorothy Dunnett‘s yuppie creation, Wendy Hellman, of the woman who has the maternal instincts of a Rottweiler and whose relationship with her daughter provides only a fraction of the wry humour in this sparkling story of business wheeling-dealing, kidnapping and explosions which stride their way from London to Marrakesh.
As executive secretary to a boss in the midst of a hush-hush takeover bid, Wendy, with mother in tow, joins a cast of idiosyncratic characters in a romp through the mosques, kasbahs and desert of Morocco under the watchful eye of the aloof and mysterious Johnson Johnson, whose presence not only underpins but catalyses an operatic ending to the novel.
A dry, self-deprecating humour pervades this clever novel as Dunnett explodes pompous boardroom jargon in a style reminiscent, at times, of P.G. Wodehouse. Certainly anyone who succeeds in making insider-trading amusing should be heartily commended. (Ann Donald)
I Playing The Game Ian Buruma (Jonathan Cape £13.99) Wristy leg glides, fulsome sweeps, the comforting thwack of leather on willow. Ahh, cricket. And not your sweat-banded, sun-blocked cricket of today’s stained trousered Australian bully-boys. This book is about the cricket of a bygone era. Of English gentlemen who would rather be bagging a brace of pheasant than de-bagging a Qantas air-stewardess any day. And the man who most exampliﬁed these qualities, the man with the supplest wrists and the most lithe posture was, of course, KS.
Ranjitsinhji. Hold on a minute. He doesn’t sound like the
archetypal Englishman; more like an
Indian Raja. But he still played for England when the world was pink.
lan Buruma has set out to fictionalise
and romanticise this extraordinary life by means of a lost, autobiographical letter from Ran ji to his ‘good friend’, C.B. Fry. which the author supposedly stumbled upon in India.
There is a lot ofstumbling in Playing The Game as Buruma Hits from one imagined (and unfailingly unamusing) anecdote to another without ever giving Ranji’s life any coherence. The author‘s peripheral ramblings with his ‘good friend’ lnder are sheer pretension as he wafﬂes on about spirituality. Most offensive, however, is his destruction ofa legend into a bloodthirsty (‘we shot 10,000 ducks that morning‘), uncaring imbecile. This may be true but did we have to be told and, more to the point, did we have to be told by someone as smug as Buruma? (Philip Parr)
I Damage Josephine Hart (Chatto and Windus, £12.99) ‘Semen and tears are the symbols of the night’, states one of the players in this cautionary tale of sexual obsession
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from darkest Hampstead. The main contender in these soul-selling stakes is a highly successful doctor and politician. His life has been one of accumulated middle-class perfection: a high-ﬂying career; a beautiful wife, two children who tread willingly and wrth success in his footsteps; an appropriately lavish home; and. above all, the in-bred security ofsuch a background.
However. a spanner in the works appears in the shape ofthe mysterious Anna Barton, his son’s lover, with whom he falls instantly and obsessively in love. She is the catalyst that peels away the facade of his passionless life and reveals it to be the sham that it is. Anna warns him of the perils of his new-found obsession: ‘Damaged people are dangerous. They know how to survive.’ Anna is just such a ‘damaged’ person - emotionally scarred by the suicide of her brother in her formative years, she has set the pattern for destructive sexual relationships. However she is the survivor, her partners are the losers.
lnevitably, the doctor narrator is doomed by unleashing such a torrent of sexual passion and the novel dissolves into a tragic mess of outlandish proportions. The ending is a foregone conclusion, but the prose is dark and chilling. (Ann Vinnicombe)
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The List3—16May 199193