SEX, LIES AND CENSORSHIP
I High Risk: An Anthology of Forbidden Writings edited by Amy Scholder and Ira Silverberg (Serpent's Tail £8.99) The Mothers of America would have a hairy-fit over this: heroin. incest. lesbian sadomasochism. rape and bondage —are all recorded to variously successful degrees in this provocative collection ofessays.
Stuart Hood has had the kind of life which Guardian readers would strangle their mothers for. Perfect liberal credentials (member of the Communist Party in the 30s before leaving in protest at Stalin‘s excesses in 1945) mingle with a career which has included intelligence officer in World War II, controller of programmes at the BBC during its experimental 60$ phase, and a professorship at the Royal College of Art in the 705.
Convinced that the world was against her from the age of four. Phillips goes on to vent spleen at those who turned against her by ‘exiling’ her from the final production days of Close Encotmrers. causing a decade-long descent into personal despair. In her eyes. drug addiction and outrageous ambition make her the tragic victim ofher times. but an autobiography that consists of little more than open bitterness bordering on arrogance does not encourage sympathy.
Overlong. self-indulgent and surprisingly lacking in good stories to
Since 1980, Hood has turned his hand i
poems and short stories by 25 . . o . effortlessly to writing. At first glance, it I
American writers (Acker and
Burroughs among them) who subscribe to the view that ‘there is nothing too dangerous or perverse in art or literature'. and whose aim is to counter society‘s increasingly censorious attitudes
('ertainly the language is disturbingly brutal and explicit and the effect upon the reader at times is on a par with that of a 'l‘yson punch to the stomach yet the subject matter would seem to dictate this.
The anthology doesn‘t seek to shock the reader into submission but rather tries to challenge everyday norms and force hidden truths into bold. black print.
Not what you’d call a pleasurable read. but worth persevering with. (Ann Donald)
I Agents of Darkness (‘ampbell Armstrong ( l lodder and Stoughton £14.99) According to the Daily Record. Armstrong is ‘Scotland's greatest living novelist'. It‘s probably just as well Jenkins. Kelman. (iray et al aren't ‘Real Scots'. The guests on Scottish Books agreed that this novel about a
Scottish exile cop in Los Angeles —
the alcoholic (‘harlie (ialloway — had every cliche in the thriller writer‘s book. but they roundly condemned the ‘gratuitous sex'. Needless to say. the pornographic couplings are the best thing about it.
(ialloway hails from (iovan and reminisces about the smell of a wet Evening Times (ye what‘.’ ). Byres Road is misspelt Byers Road. The story of revenge killings is partly set in the Philippines amongst ‘unspeakable hovels' — shouldn‘t writers speak about and try to define such things‘.’ The novel is appallineg written with grating non sequiturs -. eg ‘()n 'l‘\' somebody blethering about the weather.‘ Do LA weather forecasters ‘blether”? This was narrative description not dialogue.
The writing is also as sexist as hell. as opposed to sexy. His wife (‘long-suffering’ of course ) gets into a car ‘with the rare grace ofa woman
who knows how to wear a mini-skirt‘.
The book was launched in the Blue Room at lbrox. but like the football team and their dismal attempts to win liuropean glory. Armstrong will never break into serious literature with performances like this. .lock Wallace awful. (David M. Bennie)
84'l‘he l.ist 2(i.luly S August 1991
would appear thatwith his new novel, A Den of Foxes, the bubble has burst. The author has a penchant for war games which is fine forthe one per cent of beardie weirdies who are into that kind of thing but not exactly a plus point elsewhere. Secondly, the hero (if one can call him that) is a man in his sixties who has located himself in a remote bothy on the banks of a Scottish loch in orderto set the world to rights. All very picturesque and all that, but where’s the beef?
It takes Hood all of three pages to set
the reader‘s mind at rest. A Den of Foxes opens with a letter sent to our
hero, PeterSinclair (a thinly disguised version of Hood himself), by a games
master living in Italy. This is the perfect 3
distraction for Sinclair, who, like the rest of us, would rather fritter his time away than write a work of major philosophical worth (the reason for choosing the isolation of the bothy in
Much of the novel thereafter is taken up with the war game set in 2087 in a
‘A Den of Foxes' by Stuart Hood
world ravaged by pollution and nuclear
warfare. The characters in the war game then start having their own war game which, ironically, is set in the World War II of Sinclair’s memories
-and, of course, Hood’s own. Forthis is .
no anonymous author narrating a story.
He regularly interrupts with guidance to help the readerthrough the complicated plot, orshares the problems of having to find inspiration when facing a blank sheet of paper. Hood is obviously a very clever man and he‘s written a supremely intellectual book. Some of the literary acrobatics which he employs are old hat but it is doubtful whether all of the tricks have been included in a single volume before now. There is also a
complete absence of pretension which,
I suppose, is just one of the many skills which Hood has learned from living the perfect life. (Philip Parr)
A Den of Foxes is published by Methuen, priced £13.99.
HEAVEN ON EARTH
I The Rector‘s Wife .loanna ’l'rollope (Bloomsbury H499) Here is this year’s everyday fairy story of (iloucestershire village folk from .loanna 'l'rollope and once again it features a middle—aged. middle-class lady on the cusp of throwing up repressineg penny-pinching security for gloriously thrifty independence. The author knows and does this character very well. but surrounds her with so many stereotypical people and situations you wonder that even a community with a population barely into double figures can produce only one individual.
You also wonder in these days of the fabled upturn in demand for women returners to the workforce that the heroine's every application results in a job offer. the last with enough of a salary to support four people and rent a house and decorate it. llasn’t the recession reached the South West yet'.’ And even those of us who believe you make your own luck may have trouble swallowing the accidental death of the cleric in the antepenultimate chapter. clearing the way for the continuation of a
fortuitous and unhallowed liaison.
More realistically. mention of the Brownies‘ (‘ake Sale and the (‘hurch Flowers Rota is enough to turn all but the most blindly idealistic from the rural idyll and that in fact seems to be the author‘s intention. (Sally Macpherson)
WHERE’S THE BEEF?
I You’ll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again Julia Phillips (William Heinemann £15.99) ()r You'll Never Snort Coke In This Town Again. as it should perhaps be called. Julia Phillips. producer of The Sting - for which she won an Oscar — Taxi Driver and Close Encounters ()f The Third Kind. fills over 600 pages with movie deal after movie deal. while fulfilling the standard role ofthe Hollywood Judas by exposing the raw nostrils of the stars.
The problem is that it is very much a producer‘s viewpoint. The few big names are let off lightly — so what if Goldie Hawn doesn‘t like brushing her teeth? — the juicy stories are covered up by false names. and the real dirt is saved for studio executives who even the most ardent film buff doesn‘t really give a shit about.
trot out at parties. (Alan Morrison)
25 OF THE BEST
I Best Short Stories 1991 ed. (iiles Gordon and David Hughes (lleinemann. £14.99). If you never buy another book of short stories. buy this one. l leinernann have every right to be proud of their annual short story collections — no boring compilation of nearly-made-it
writers here. but the very best. culled
froin a myriad of impressive sources. Amongst this year‘s crop of 25 . you will find Alice Munro. Margaret Atwood. Julian Barnes and Nadine (iordimer. A. S. Byatt intrigues with her portrayal of a woman's infernal relationship with her hairdresser and William Trevor's Coffee with Oliver is truly brilliant. Jenny Diski stands out for a furmy-peculiar tale about children and telling the truth. and
there is a suitably nasty contribution ;
from nasty Julie Burchill. Baby Love is. apparently. Ms. Burchill‘s first
il l l l l l
story and ‘hopefully' her last. Here's ;
hoping. (Miranda France)
I The Illumination of Alice Mallory Maureen Moore (Harper Collins. £13.99) This debut from a young Canadian writer is set in Vancouver and tells of the adolescent experiences of Alice. a Woolworth‘s shopgirl who offsets the mundanity ofher daily life against a spiritual existence she vicariously explores through her love of DH. Lawrence‘s writings. Alice firmly believes that
literature is ‘more real than ordinary
life‘ and her ‘illumination‘. as such. comes with the gradual discovery
that things aren‘t quite so clear-cut as }
this simple maxim would suggest.
Early on. we are told that the action is set in the late 50s. yet there is little in the ensuing narrative to
evoke a specific period in support of 3
this claim — and this is a major weakness. Moore gives us a Laurentian heroine. transplanted into a formulaic soap-opera plot — an unmarried. pregnant best friend whose indolent husband and weight-lifting. biker brother both have wandering hands for Alice‘s hymen. plus her own predictable, less physical passion for the local ‘intellectual‘ Bohemian set. Both the heroine and the novel try to escape