NON-FICTION LEFT IN THE SOS
I The Worst Years Of Our Lives
Barbara Ehrenreich (Lime Tree £14.99) Midway through this collection of essays and articles. Ehrenreich breaks off being all spiky and quirky about American life in the 80s to provide us with an amusing little piece about the breakdown of communications between men and women. Apparently. when a woman tries to engage a man in conversation. she is successful only 36 per cent of the time. more often managing only an noncommittal ‘hmmm‘.
I found myselfsaying ‘hmmm‘ to
rather more than 64 per cent of these
essays. They are very much of their
time and place. and few survive outside of the topical magazine columns they were written for. The
references go astray. the jokes fall
flat and. three years on. the
references to Reagan‘s senility are
treading ancient territory.
Ehrenreich covers all the bases with i a crusading vigour. but her targets
are the ephemera of high society and politics. and she uses stronger social issues like poverty and crime insensitively to score cheap points. The pieces tell us what a crazy place the States was in the 80s but. hey, we knew that already.
That's not to say Ehrenreich isn’t possessed ofa gift for the felicitous phrase, and an angry radicalism that occasionally breaks through the urbanity. Indeed she makes a point of establishing her impeccable liberal credentials in the introduction. But the immediacy and the shock effect have long gone.
l GATHERING moss
I Bob Dylan: Behind The Shades Clinton Heydrin (Viking £16.99) To ' Clinton Heydrin. liking Dylan is : almost a religion and any suggestion that the great man lost it somewhere in the 705 is heresy. Behind The Shades (an endearineg naive title — and. yes. the two pictures on the 3 cover show him with and without a pair) is an attempt to even up the attention lavished on Uncle Bob by devoting much of the space and close analysis to his more recent work rather than the tangled metaphors of his early period. The book reads like an exhaustive diary. with endless discussions of why Dylan only played twelve songs one night on a 1988 tour. This leaves it thin on any social. political or musical context to his songs or career. particularly unfortunate when the subject was one of the first to bridge the gap between ‘proper art‘ and pop music. Mind you, ifthe result is mind-numbing trivia like this. I‘m not sure we‘ve got much to thank him for. (Andrea Baxter) L
' being invited to walk into a whole world 7 and be alive in it and they can’t be alive
adolescence to be a poet, confides
. Motion with the sort of practised,
: boyish charm that fairly sends the
maternal iuices racing: ‘lt’s an odd
' mixture of extremely adult
! craftsmanship combined with a pretty . unregenerate,ungrown-up,
; attention-seeking plaintive manner.’
3 And does it have to be so
‘ sell-indulgent? It does. Gross thinks
, exaggerated, this is no bog-standard
; portrayal ofthe unshakable presence
: (Abacus £4.99), life is a bed of thorns
; Baker’s Room Temperature (Granta
Poetry and the new man
Not all good poets are dead ones, according to Andrew Motion and Philip Gross. But then they would say that, wouldn’t they? - both are currently i promoting new books and arguing that i no, poetry really is not hard work, or, maybe it is, but not in the way you think. ‘I thinkthere is work in it,’ says Gross. ‘The audience, or reader, is
in it if they don’t work with imagination.’ You have to retain something oi your
you would have to be saintly to write a sellless poem. His new collection, The Son of the Duke of Nowhere, centres around his Estonian heritage, or the lack oi it: ‘I spend about the first quarter of the book owning up to the fact thatl don’t know anything about Estonia, I’ve
never lived there, Iwasn't told anything about its past and I don't speak the language. That is the past, orthe lack ol past, that I learned to build my world around.’ It is an absence which he extends to other problems of the self. Boyish he may be, but Motion is also the founder of the modern Narrative School, which means that you should read his books from beginning to end as you would a novel. In ‘Love in a Life’ it is the story of his unhappy first marriage, and his life with his new wife and family which gradually emerges. He wants to write poems, he says, ‘which look like water and turn out to be gin’. Like Motion, Gross favours straight talking over iancy words and
are published by Faber at £4.99 each.
clever tricks. ‘Lots of people have been trying too hard to be surprising,‘ he says, ‘it begins to ieel like a constant itch.’
At the back of my mind is the story of the group of schoolchildren who were invited to meet Norman MacCaig, but were warned not to ask the maestro what his poems actually meant. Motion is sympathetic. It has taken twenty , years of reading T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste ‘; Land’ for him to conclude that he thinks ' he knows what it means, he says.
Could he be exaggerating just a mite? Let’s call it poetic licence. (Miranda France) ; The Son Of Nowhere and Love in A Life
Itinerant children, kindling loves I and dying embers drawn to a Highland village for a grand ball, produce a veritable saga round the i Again Rosamunde Pilcher‘s I September (Coronet £4.99), writes I Susan Mackenzie. '
Although occasionally 9
housewife‘s choice. Pilcher‘s airy prose has the Highlanders‘ psyche down to a T, creating a touching
ofone’s roots and their ingrained
In Mag by James Sorel-Cameron
for a hunchback mute — The Hedgehog — cast into the curdled bowels of a vast inn to meet her fate. Sorel-Cameron’s first novel, this is a chilling, peculiar work which explores every nook and cranny of the human condition.
Existentialists, meanwhile, may find small comfort in Nicholas
£4.99). The follow up to The Mezzanine, this is more ofthe same, taking 116 pages to capture narrator Mike’s ponderings as he feeds his daughter, The Bug.
Life, however, is too short to stuff a mushroom. Stripped ofthe diverting footnotes of The Mezzanine, Room Temperature becomes a snail trail — sticky and indefinite but with a certain, grudging sparkle.
Ian McEwan also considers the human condition in The Innocent (Picador £4.99). Leonard, a telephone engineer. is posted to Berlin, to aid in the installation ofa
, secret Russian telephone tap, for the
British army. Inevitably, he finds
love, in the bohemian Maria. They ‘ live together under the shadow of
Maria‘s ex-husband Otto. When
Otto arrives, intending to murder
Maria, they kill him, an incident
' which sparks off a chain ofevents
which, one supposes, are meant to be graphically horrific, but instead
' provide side-splitting farce, as they , try to dispose of the body. The whole
culminates neatly in espionage. a snake-pit of twists and separation for the young lovers, finishing in an unashamed deluge of poignancy and emotion. Get a grip, McEwan.
I JOHN SMITH AND SON 57 St Vincent Street. Glasgow, 221 7472.
Tue 7 6.30pm. Jim Crumley gives an illustrated presentation of his new book A High And Lonely Place (Jonathan Cape £13.99) about the Cairngorms. and will be signing copies. Phone to reserve signed copies.
I WATEHSTONE'S 114—116 George Street Edinburgh, 225 3436.
Thurs 9 7.30pm. Mario Vargas Llosa the acclaimed Peruvian author reads from and signs copies of his latest work In Praise Of The Stepmother (Faber £13.99).
; seriesBerter Than Life (Penguin £3.99)
I WATEHSTONE'S 13/14 Princes Street Edinburgh. 556 3034.
Thurs 9 1—2pm. Grant/Naylor, the writers of cult TV series Red Dwarfwill be signing copies of the second book in the
featuring all your favourite characters. Thurs 16 6.30pm. Muriel Gray. TV presenter and Munro-sealer will be signing copies of her TV series tic-in book The First Fifty —— Munro-Bagging Without/1 Beard(Mainstream £12.99). Phone to I make reservations. 3 I WEST AND WILDE 25a Dundas Street. Edinburgh EH3 600. 556 0079.
Fri 3 8pm. Crime writer Val McDermid will be reading from and signing copies ofher : third mystery novel Final Edition (Women‘s Press. £5.95) a thriller set in Glasgow. where McDermid formerly worked' a journalist.
I BOOK ALE St Andrew‘s and St George’s Church. George Street. Edinburgh.
Sat 11 10am—4pm. Mon 13-Fri 17 10.30am—3pm. Book sellers. collectors and large numbers of the general public are expected for the annual sale. Proceeds go to Christian Aid.
I JAMES THIN 53—59 South Bridge. Edinburgh ()31 5566743.
Thurs 16 7pm Dorothy Dunnett will read from and sign copies of Moroccan Trafﬁc (Chatto £13.99)
I MACHOBEHT BOOKFAIH MacRobert Arts Centre. University Of Stirling, Stirling.
Fri TO—Sai 11 . The third annual bookfair offers a wide range ofevents and happenings for primary age children and families. with authors attending including Aileen Paterson, John Grant, Rennie McOwan and Duncan Williamson.
I For Maytest literary events see separate Listings.
94The List3— 16 May 1991