At 78, Robin Jenkins remains an enigma, the diversity at his work
rendering him unclassiliable, with the
result that he ts not so readily marketable as those authors who lit compliantly into publicists’ pigeon-holes. Perhaps the chiel unilying lactor in this disparate oeuvre -The Cone-Gatherers and Fergus
2 Lamont are his best-known novels- is
v the author’s commitment to Scotland, a theme that looms large in his latest
work, Poverty Castle.
0n the one hand a iairly straightforward tale of the well-oil, iiercely independent Semplll iamily, who buy a derelict house in Argyll and restore it to lormer glories, the book is also a novel within a novel, as the aged author ol the Semplll story reflects on
; how the tale is going, and his wile
worries about the stress that his work is putting on him.
Jenkins, while agreeing that the author ol the Semplll story has characteristics in common with himseli, says that Poverty Castle is not
autobiographical. ‘He’s had the kind at
career I’ve had - a lair amount of praise but very little money- but in other ways he’s quite unlike me. An early book oi mine, Happy For The Child (to be reissued in September), is the really
, autobiographical book.’ _
FICTION DYNAMIC DUO
} I White Flre- Further Fantastic 1 Literature ed. Alberto Manguel
Robin Jenkins, author oi Poverty Castle
Poverty Castle is not only the name of the Semplll residence, it is used explicitly by the (lictional) author as a symbol at the state at Scotland - a country at contradictions, in which there is not only a great gull between the riches oi the lew and the impoverishment ol the vast majority, but also between the spiritual liveliness oi the minority and the cowed coniormity oi the urban masses.
‘Poverty Castle is a name with national signilicance,’ says Mr Semplll. ’Does it not sum up the state at Scotland itsell, a country in some ways grand and noble but in otherways small-minded and poverty-stricken?
The theme oi contradictions is carried on as the live Semplll girls grow up and the eldest, the haughty, beautliul would-be aristocrat Diana,
becomes room-mates at Glasgow University with a small, spindly working-class socialist, Peggy Gilchrist. Not Only is she Diana’s alter-ego, Peggy also lunctions as a reminderto the Sempllls that lite is not quite so easy as they have lound it. ‘Peggy is lar and away my tavourite character in the book,’ says Jenkins. “Most at her attitudes were at one time my own. She is a bit seduced by the luck at the Sempllls, but she brings them back down to earth.’
Poverty Castle is, on one level, a tale parable-like in its simplicity. While there are dramatic tensions, the characters by and large are drawn with a broad brush: they are strong, unyielding and, in essentials, unchanging. Butthe book, again like a
parable, has hidden depths and levels oi meaning. Do not be tooled by the light, easy narrative: this is a work to be savoured slowly. Do not be worried, either, that the lictional author’s insistence that this is his last book is an autobiographical statement by Jenkins. ‘I linished Poverty Castle several years ago. I put books away for a year ortwo alteriinishing them, then take them out again to see how they look as a whole. I’ve got at least three or tour novels in my drawer, and a couple ol them look quite promising.’ (Stuart Bathgate)
Poverty Castle is published by Balnain Books, priced £7.95.
(Picador £9.99) While the term
‘fantastic literature’ may evoke
depressing images ofboys in anoraks j
reading science-fiction comics, Alberto Manguel takes this
anthology well beyond such
benighted realms. embracing such illustrious names as Julian Barnes, F. Scott Fitzgerald and VS. Naipaul. Nor is fantastic literature a male preserve: Margaret Atwood. AS. Byatt and Sylvia Townsend Warner all get their say.
The book‘s more orthodox predecessor, Black Water, has just
51 si. chew."w
been reissued, also at £9.99, with contributions from, among many others, Edgar Allen Poe, Somerset Maugham, Kafka and Borges. Together, the two volumes make for the kind ofeasily satisfying collection which is virtually impossible to fault. It is futile to play literary tipster with such a variety of
authors in the running, and no , favourite stands out. In fact if anyone is hedging his bets it must be
the editor himself, so all-inclusive
are these companion works. (Miranda France)
I The Face That Must Die Ram‘sey Campbell (Macdonald £12.95) Amid
the bleak. decaying, inner-city
streets of Liverpool, paranoia and violent homophobia fester in the body of John Horridge. Disgusted and terrified by society, he stalks the tenants of a block of ﬂats, nursing his obsessiOn until it erupts in a razor-slashing frenzy.
Subtitled A Horrifying Novel Of Murderous Paranoia, and parading the classic ingredients of horror fiction, The Face That Must Die could be a parody of the psycho-slasher school of fiction. Taut and chilling, the book is nonetheless short on surprises, and,
‘ while Ramsey Campbell shows his ; skill in revitalising tired cliches, the
ending recalls too many Hammer films not to suffer slightly as a consequence. (Madeline Slaven)
signing c0pies of her book
"The First Fifty"
(Mam cm £12.99)
at 6.30 pm. on Thursday 23rd May in John Smith & Son, 57 St Vincent Street, Glasgow
Please telephone to reserve signed copies
I Stalin’s Teardrops Ian Watson (Gollancz £13.99) There are funny things happening in the world today. The inspiration for this collection of twelve short stories is obvious enough: the concrete and cabbages of Moscow suburbia, Inter-City tunnels and holograms (presumably on credit cards). All rather mundane facets of late 20th century life — until Watson’s strange mind latches onto them.
Suddenly dragons start rampaging through life-size holograms of cathedrals, Moscow suburbia is a never-never land from which there is no escape, and a tunnel on the Birmingham to London line becomes the departure point for a journey to 80 million years BC. Watson’s imagination runs riot, but his prose has the poise to keep one in the picture throughout. Don‘t anybody dare lock this man up, just yet. (Philip Parr)
SILENCE OF THE HAMS
I Don’t Say A Word Andrew Klavan (Bloomsbury £14.99) With a title that conjures up images of cheap 19705 horror movies, and with an unoriginal plot to match, Andrew Klavan’s sixth novel delves into parents’ paranoia and the disruption of the American family unit. Unfortunately this is not enough in itself to create a top-grade thriller, and so Klavan’s pacy prose runs rings around his tired old plot.
Nathan Conrad is one of New York’s top psychiatrists, happily married, with only a damaged knee to worry about - until his daughter is kidnapped and he is forced into using his skills to get information from one ofhis patients. Word has it that the movie rights ofthe book have already been sold for a six-figure sum. Ifso, Klavan’s characters are cast so that the finale has Woody Allen against Arnold Schwarzenegger, with plausibility the first casualty. The only surprise in the story is that any novelist could think he might get away with something so predictable. (Alan Morrison)
The List 17—30 May 199189