i ; BOOKS
I Talking ll Over Julian Barnes (Jonathan Cape £13.99) Written as a series of monologues from three protagonists who are linked first by friendship and then by desire. and by a handful of incidental characters. the hackneyed story ofJulian Barnes‘ Talking It Over comes to us through the back door. draped in disguises.
As with the author‘s first novel. Metro/and. it is rendered through thc simple personality conflict of two males living in London. one a dull suburbanite. the other an impecunious outsider living a supposedly subversive life by rejecting his friends material values. Both fall in love with the same woman. Gillian. the novel‘s central character yet the one we know least by the end.
The story is racy. comical. and not without surprises. In the absence of a narrator. we understand things in fits and starts. and are kept on our toes by the inevitable echoes. repetitions and denials. and by the author‘s wild assortment ofironies. Defensive melancholy looms in the second half. but. despite the formal trickery and occasionally forced humour. this is storytelling of the highest calibre. (Douglas McCabe)
I The Kitchen God’s Wite Amy Tan (HarperCollins£14.99) This is a mother‘s story. told to close the gap between two generations and cultures. Arriving in San Francisco in 1949. Winnie Louie was a good Chinese mother to her American daughter Pearl. conferring on her the values of the old world whilst uneasily amalgamating new surroundings. old loyalties and a Christian (.‘hinese husband.
Age. sickness. betrothal and the approach of('hinese New Year provoke an assessment of her life. and the decision to try to move beyond the meaningless gestures and old misunderstandings of dutifully extended family occasions. and the careful politeness of strangers which separates her and Pearl. So she tells her about the pain in her heart which comes from keeping everything inside until it is too late. and starts with the story of her own mother.
Pearl hears ofwomen‘s experiences in Shanghai and Hangchowduringthewar.the revolution and the rush to emigrate. There are local differences. 3 universal similarities. Eastern fate and Western luck. In the end the two ' share laughter and tears. ; understandingand hope.
()f Amy Tan‘s previous book.
Alice Walker wrote that she ‘shows
us the mother-daughter bond in ways we have not experienced before‘. With The Kite/zen (iml's Wife she has 7 done so again. (Sally Macpherson)
80 The List 12— 25 July 1991
book’s hero. In his latest, An Agent in
which does the usual ‘All characters,
Littell Big Man
Robert Littell likes to play games. His novels are full at little oddments such as the statement (in code) in the lront of one that the book was not written by him but is a true account courtesy of the 1
Place, there is a disclaimer at the back
relerences are accidental and
coincidental, etc’, but it concludes with i
. happens to he the trade mark 01 the CIA . chief in the book. All very clever, ' unlike, ironically, most of Littell’s
; George Smiley as Roger Moore is from
the single word ‘Whatever’, which just
characters, who are as far removed from the callous professionalism of
Sean Connery. Littell is in little doubt as to why his heroes turn out to be such amateurs.
‘Mainly because that’s what I am. I’ve never been a member at the KGB or the CIA (and anyway it I was, would I tell you?). I'm probably blundering through the story lines, so maybe the i
Robert Uttell character is blundering through also,’ he says.
Although somewhat out at the mainstream spy genre, Littell has been forced, like Le Carré et al, to adapt post-glasnost. ‘I know of a lot of novels nearing completion that were all about the Berlin Wall. There’s nothing you can do in that situation and they just had to be scrapped. Everything has changed, but in another sense nothing
has changed. What we know about the Soviet Union since World War II has always been the tip at the iceberg. What spy writers have been doing since 1945 is suggesting to people what could be underthe surlace, and that situation hasn’t changed at all. There’s still plenty to imagine and invent and get at.’
In An Agent In Place, Littell uses his imagination to great effect by creating an all too plausible scenario involving, shall we say, senior members of the USSR establishment, a clandestine CIA offshoot, the KGB and the usual blundering hero. The perpetual flux of Soviet politics would seem to make this novel out of date as soon as it was published, but Littell has obviously thought his subject through. ‘llyou’re reading it and Gorbachev Is still in power, I'm explaining things that are going on underneath the surlace,’ he says. ‘11 you're reading it and Gorbachev has been deposed, I'm telling you what really went on.’ (Philip Parr)
An Agent In Place is published by Faber, priced £13.99.
I A Village Called Sin Guy Bellamy (Viking £14.99) The pleasures of ’living in Sin‘. as the residents of Compton Sinbury delight in describing it. are predominantly sex and money. And in the opportunistic spirit ofthe 1980s. the preoccupation is with grabbing as much as you can ofboth.
Clearly not a man to shy away from a stereotype. Guy Bellamy plays out this comedy ofmodern manners in the company of Suzanne the sex-starved housewife. One-Cell Tel the well-endowed village idiot. and Paul. who earns £200.01)“ a year but can‘t keep it up.
it‘s a laugh-a-minute ifyou find bouncing breasts and knickerless romps funny. There are always those who find willy jokes irresistible. and to them A l'i/lage ('a/ler/ Sin comes highly recommended. (Madeline Slaven)
I Lip Service Russell Lucas (lleinemann £13.99) Lust and sex are celebrated in radiant full-blown colour in Lip Service as Russell Lucas performs linguistic gymnastics. employing his kaleidoscopic vocabulary to charm the pants offthe reader. Despite clangers such as ‘astral-vagina‘ and ‘labial-suckers' occasionally letting the side down. this is an exhilarating and original book.
Subtitled ‘An ()cdipal Novel'. the vague shadow of a plot is cast: Lazlo i is a precocious young lad who is still
j trying to repair the broken sexual
bond caused when his mother
stopped breastfeeding him. By way
troupe ofcxotic characters who are
l l ofour hero we are introduced to a i too busy satisfying their lascivious
libidos to worry about something so unsexy as a storyline. as they ﬂit in and out ofeach other‘s lives and orifices.
This is not so much a novel as a series ofwonderfully imagined character studies stapled together. Less lip and more plot is what is needed. (Ann Donald)
I Middle Passage Charles Johnson (Picador £14.99) It is important that a novel written in the vernacular of an early 19th-century African-American freedman should not contain words from a later epoch. For instance. words such as ‘pornographic' and ‘bicycle‘ have no place in 1830s New ()rleans. This fault undermines the veracity of what is in most other respects a wonderfully achieved. uplifting work by a multi-talented black American writer.
.lliddle Passage tells of the escape to sea ofthe narrator. Rutherford ('alhoun. and his subsequent adventures aboard a slaver. The crew and their cargo of far more civilised Africans are shown to be similarly trapped by an unforgiving capitalism which exploits them all. (‘alhoun‘s gradual learning of these facts and his growth as a person are chronicled with understated wit and occasional brutish humour in a novel which. despite its faults. is a cracking, good nautical adventure. (Alan Rice)
I Wise Children Angela Carter (Chatto and Windus £13.99) Angela Carter seems to have hit the literary nail bang on the head again with a novel which is loudly proclaimed as her funniest and finest yet. It tells the
story of two theatrical families - the Hazards and the Chances— all offspring ofSir Melchior Hazard. but on different sides ofthe blanket. Twins Dora and Nora were born on the wrong side. and now live in Brixton. on ‘the bastard side of Old Father Thames’. The Twins‘ showbiz memoirs — still running hot through their veins and now narrated by 75-year-old Dora — take them from Broadway and Hollywood to London. via numerous productions ofShakespeare and panto. Gales of laughter accompany every anecdote and, of course. it is Dora‘s gift for the
} gab which makes the book a winner.
‘ Virginia Woolf. seem obvious
Wise (‘hildren is a tribute to Shakespeare (who also filled his plays with twins). to showbusiness and to South London. (Miranda France)
I Passions and Bellections l & ll Ed. Judy (‘ooke (Lime Tree £30) These two hardback tomes declare themselves ‘a collection onIIth century woman's fiction’ and sure enough. there on the contents page are a selection of well known Zilth century women‘s writers — Atwood. Brookner. Carter. Lessing. Woolf— all jumbled up together. Some. like
choices. others. like Kathy Page. less so. but nowhere is there any explanation of the criteria by which the writers were chosen. What they seem to have in common is that they are popular or respected at the moment — important but underrated writers. such as Dorothy Richardson. are absent.
This impression ofcarelessness is compounded when many of the delights that seem to be in store. turn out to be extracts. for instance The Bell Jar and T0 The Lighthouse.