I Landscape Painted With Tea Milorad Pavic (Hamish Hamilton £14.99) Partly the account ofthe wanderings and metamorphoses of one Atanas Svilar, this new novel by the Serbian academic Milorad Pavic also purports to be a crossword puzzle, with chapters in the second part ofthe book being labelled ‘2 Down', ’4 Across'. and so on. Whether one reacts delightedly or dismissiver to such an idea is the surest way of determining who would enjoy. who despise, this perverse yet purposeful work.
At times irksomely inconsequential, the imagery can also be strangely beautiful (‘At that moment . . . wild wheat formed ears somewhere far off on the Danube‘) or quietly comic (‘His eyes. . . were close together. as though he had just sniffed them through his nose’).
On one level just ajeu d’esprit, Landscape Painted With Tea is also a skilled and exotic evocation of the sorrows ofsouthern Europe, a part of the continent with a history starkly different to that of this achingly comfortable island ofours. Perplexing but at times very pleasurable, the novel merits the reader’s perseverance. (Stuart Bathgate)
I immortality Milan Kundera (Faber £14.99) Sentence-skipping readers are likely to be frustrated by this novel, since Milan Kundera makes no bones about the fact he has written ‘a feast of many courses‘, not a series ofcausally-related acts rushing towards a resolution.
With little narrative to speak of, he blurs the distinction between essay ' and novel as disquisitions on gesture, man‘s obsession with immortality, and the significance of wearing dark glasses exist alongside Hemingway’s imaginary chats with Goethe and the fragmented story of two sisters, Agnes and Laura.
Throwing ideas and aphorisms about like confetti, the novel is a delight of black humour and ingenious argument. gradually forming a picture of society groaning under the weight of self-deception and terminal alienation. Cynically, Kundera offers only two solutions to this modern malaise: treat life as a game, or. like Agnes, focus on a forget-me-not and shut out the world. (Madeline Slaven)
I The Elephant Richard Rayner (Jonathan Cape £13.99) Headingly Hamer is the narrator of this tale of growing up in comically stereotyped Bradford, and he is a liar, or so he tells us, which rather makes one wonder about the point of reading
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Pat Barker’s first piece of writing, when she was eleven, was a poem about the First World War; a ‘preoccupation which goes back lurtherthan any other’, inspired by her grandiather’s experiences. ‘He had a bayonet wound which used to fascinate me when l was a little girl,’ she says. ‘Itwas a kind at hole which I used to stick my linger in.’ Barker's new novel, Regeneration, is an exploration of the suiierlngs and silent protests of such men, herded oh the battleiield and into the psychiatric hospitals. Set in 1917 in Edinburgh’s Craiglockhart War Hospital (now part at Napier Polytechnic), and centred around war poet Siegirled Sassoon’s time underthe care of Dr William Rivers, this extraordinary book gives a voice to the numerous soldiers made dumb by their horrliic experiences, and unable to cry out in anger or tear. Following the publication oi Sassoon’s protest against the continuation of the war, he is ushered to Craiglockhart by the authorities in the hope that he be proved mentally unsound, thus avoiding a court martial and an inconvenient public outcry. Sassoon is thrust into direct controntation with Dr Rivers, a compassionate and principled man, who believes that he must ‘heal’ such men as Sassoon, and return them to battle in order that the cancer of war he
1 ‘5 , '9, I, I l n e“ ‘ l' Pat Barker more quickly removed.
As Rivers becomes entangled in the logic of Sassoon’s argument, a relationship of mutual respect and
attectlon develops, through which the '
doctor begins to understand just what the strangled cries oi his patients mean, and what his ‘cures’ imply.
‘The whole book is about ditticulties in speech,’ explains Barker. ‘There’s Rivers’s stammer, Sassoon also had a congenital stammer, and you have this poor man, Callan, in the London
hospital, who has totally lost his voice, ‘
and is being electrically shocked into regaining it.’
Rivers’s stammer allows him to empathise with his patients, their psychological torment becoming his own. Thus, whilst observing the cruel treatment of the speechless Callan, he is ilung into a lit oi sell-doubt, equating his own role with that of Dr Lewis Yealland, who drives the words from
Callan’s throat wlth a pair of electrodes. ‘Callan’s protest, even although it is unconscious and inartlculate, as Sassoon’s is very articulate, is nevertheless a protest against the war,’ explains Barker. ‘80 in a sense, Rivers is doing to Sassoon whatYealland is doing to Callan: silencing him. It‘s a great paradox, because he is the most gentle and compassionate person in the book.’
Although Barker’s research of the medical and sociological aspects oi the war, and of Rivers’s methods of treatment, was very thorough, she denies that she has the right to trespass onto the killing lields upon which these men suitered: ‘I wanted to be quite
i honest about the fact that neither I nor
the readers have been there, so that in fact there is no description of the horrors oi war which reads as it you’re there. It’s always someone who has experienced it, telling it to somebody who hasn't. Of course you can do it the other way, like Timothy Mo has done in his book, The Redundancy oi Courage, but I wanted the detachment. I wanted people to admit that we haven’t had this experience, but that it’s worth thinking about.’
Rivers learns, through his own regeneration, that ‘the process of transformation consists almost entirely oi decay’, and that there exists only the rotting caterpillar inside the chrysalis. Barker’s novel is a skilled examination oi the traumatic injury to the
' personality and the slow process of
recovery. (Kathleen Morgan) Regeneration is published by Viking, priced £13.99.
his life story. However, if he has made everything up, his powers of invention must be weak indeed, for this is an ordinary rites-of-passage number about a boy and his bad dad, the irresponsible, crooked, terribly English charmer he first worships, then rejects, then finally accepts after nursing him through a long-drawn-out death.
Unfortunately, for this kind of story of fascination to work, the reader has to be able to share it, and Jack Hamer is not a charismatic figure at all; despite Richard Rayner‘s best efforts he remains resolutely fictional and his adventures unoriginal and dull. The book is stylish enough in a self-consciously wacky way, but ultimately empty and tedious. (Andrea Baxter)
I Two Lives William Trevor (Viking £13.99) The ever-obliging William Trevor presents two lives for the price of one, this latest offering consisting oftwo novels, Reading Turgenev and My House In Umbria, within one volume. The tales are worlds apart, though linked thematically. In both, a pained woman takes revenge in fiction.
Marie Louise Dallon. miserable in her sterile marriage, falls in love with an invalid cousin who reads her Turgenev in a graveyard. Emily Delahunty is a survivor of a terrorist bombing while on a train to Milan, and provides refuge in her house in Umbria for other survivors, while escaping into the pulp romantic fiction which she pens.
These are not simply novels of escapism, though. Trevor explores the ground between fiction and reality, and the overwhelming power that fiction can have on different lives.
Two Lives demonstrates an established author at the height of his power. From the harsh landscape of50s Ireland to Italy in the late 80s, Trevor illustrates the universality of his themes. The suffering of the two women transcends time and place in as satisfying a read as you could hope for all year. (Richard Harrison)
I The Oath-Takers and Sea-Green Ribbons Naomi Mitchison (both Balnain £6.95) Minute fragments of period illustrations and illuminated chapter headings by Barbara Robertson mark these twin volumes out before a page is read. Persist, and enter the past through the back
Beginning in 17th century London. Sea Green Ribbons is a brave study of female emancipation. Sarah. a painfully innocent young printer. is forcibly betrothed to a cruel. unloving baker against the backdrop of London‘s Cromwellian turbulence. Showing startling resolve in times ofsuch restraint upon women. Sarah bids fora free. if spartan, existence in rural England before looking to the New World for total fulfilment.
Going further back in time. the simplistic outlook of The Oath- Takers hides an epic odyssey through the Frankish empire of9th century Europe. Drogo, on the verge ofmanhood, is faced with the stormy relationships between nations and the confused questioning of a world seeking new
values. His inquisitive mind takes
him on a perilous quest, striving towards enlightenment in Spain. In both novels, Mitchison creates
' sympathetic characters within an
informed historical context. sustaining an edgy atmosphere of unrest. Busy chains ofevents are countered with simple and unusual use of language. which serves as a great evocation in scene-setting, making for convincing period pieces. l (Susan Mackenzie)
The List31 May— l3June 199175