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FICTION MIND GAMES
I Cherokee Jean Echenoz (Faber £13.99)Originallypublished.in
French. in 1983. Cherokee. the first of psychologist Jean Echenez‘s four novels to appear in English. is a
. convoluted detective story set in
Paris and the Alps. Involving a dozen precisely drawn figures who appear. disappear and regroup with
the passing ofeach short chapter. the
novel at its best proves an exhilarating experience.
As the story‘s detective. the reader
is invited to fathom the events and motives ofan agency working hopelessly on two or three cases
simultaneously. Ultimately. it all
leads to the greedy pursuit of a large inheritance that may or may not be available through some sophisticated conceit. but this
. doesn‘t explain the bizarre cult and
the elusive love interest that
dominate the novel.
Only the jacket can reveal to us the
author‘s background. for the book
; certainly doesn‘t. His book is all
surface and literary games. a work of i great craft. but very much of its time.
; The storytelling relies heavily on
, wordy phrases. allowing the reader
, little opportunity to escape into an
alternative concrete world. Readers 3 familiar with all these games will
either love or loathe Cherokee; those who aren't might find it difficult to
form any opinion whatsoever.
I Three Novels Nina Berberova (Chatto and Windus £11.99) Itis
hardly surprising that Berberova has
been dubbed ‘Chekhov‘s heiress‘. These three novellas, whether set in the stark Soviet Union or in a Paris ‘brilliant and festive like champagne‘, always carry with them a peculiarly Soviet realism. They are stories infused with melancholy — unbending poverty provides a back
drop, but what really hits home is the :
desolation of living a life which promises nothing but the most meagre distractions. where the disease of indifference bites deep into hearts and minds. Berberova‘s characters lead lives in which human
Few first novels are as elegantly expressed as Elspeth Barker’s 0 Caledonia. The tale of an awkward, apparently doomed Scottish girl, it is, in terms of plot, unmitigatedly gloomy, a mood undercut to an extent by the brio of the descriptive passages.
Few debutant novelists, admittedly, have had as much time as Barker to refine their art. Born in Edinburgh ‘a long time ago . . . oh, all right then, 1941’, she has, she says, always been a writer of a son, although until recently much of her time was spent bringing up her live children. Now, as well as being able to devote herself more to her writing, she teaches Latin, for the love of the language as well as the necessity of financing herself and her husband, the poet George Barker.
As Janet, the protagonist of 0 Caledonia, loves the classics to the extent that she is vilified for it by her peers at boarding school, it seems permissible to ask the obvious, inevitable question — how much of 0 Caledonia is autobiographical? ‘A lot of it, in one way or another,’ is the reply. Barker, like Janet, is the eldest of five children, and says that the book is, on one level, a tribute to the place in north-east Scotland -here called
Auchnasaugh —where she grew up. It is
also a less than fond remembrance of her own time at boarding school, the location of which in the book is further south than the real place, which nevertheless remains identifiable by
those who know the east coast.
Barker's chief hope forthe book is that it will not just be regarded as the story of one particularly inept girl; that its wider relevance will be appreciated. If is a hope that this reader shares: while aspects of Janet's experiences may be peculiar to girls of her class, in a way she represents everyone — male or female —who has gone through the horrific embarrassments, the clodhopper clumsiness of adolescence.
All the same, Janet does have certain traits which make her a character in her own right, and which separate her from Barker’s own experience. There are, as the novelist points out, areas of the text which are anything but autobiographical. ‘Obviously I wasn't murdered when l was 16.’ she says, referring to the protagonists fate,
which, with some audacity, is related to the reader in the first few pages of the book.
Normally the discovery of the body at the start of a story would be the cue for a stereotypical whodunnit of the most reductive sort. In 0 Caledonia, though, that revelation detracts not a jet from the story, which in fact retains a rich vein of maliciously enjoyable humour.
Barker sums up the theme of the book as ‘romantic expectations counterpointed to the bleak reality of life’. The reviewer, contrasting the experience of reading this debut with the dross that is usually served up in first novels, prefers to talk of ‘bleak expectations contrasted with the inspiring reality’. (Stuart Bafhgate)
0 Caledonia by Elspeth Barker is published by Hamish Hamilton, priced £14.99.
relations. rife with disappointment and misconnections. offer little solace and only the intellectual prevails.
Reading Berberova is like looking at a vast Soviet landscape— the impossibility ofchange. the grit. the sadness that one associates with 19th and early 20th century writing are all there: now in her nineties. Berberova. whose autobiography. The italics are mine. has also just been published. offers a unique female perspective on the Great Russian Novel. (Miranda France)
WORD 0F MOUTH
I The Edinburgh Book of Quotations Compiled by Michael T.R.B. Turnbull (B&W Publishing £6.95) Much has been written of Edinburgh and her environs. a lot of it interesting. particularly to her children. residents and visitors. So the idea ofcollecting the more quotable sayings together holds great promise.
Turnbull has partially fulfilled the remit. Goebbels thought the city ‘enchanting‘ in 1938. ‘it shall make a delightful summer capital when we invade Britian‘ he said. Had he
succeeded. this volume would have furnished interesting quotations. conveniently arranged by
geographical area as he toured the
However. had he wanted to be a little more scholarly and look up all the references to alcohol. for example. he would have had to trawl through the whole book. Worse. he would have no way of finding out where. or even when. the publisher Robert (‘hambers wrote of Younger‘s Edinburgh Ale. a brew so potent it ‘almost glued the lips of the drinker together.’
So when Turnbull edits the second edition he should provide a full index and source the entries. That there will be a second edition is not in doubt: this one serves its purpose and. as Beecham said in 1956. ‘Edinburgh Festival audiences applaud everything with equal indiscrimination.‘ (Thom Dibdin)
BEHIND THE SCREEN
I Chambers Film and Television Handbook edited by Allan Hunter
' ((‘hambers £8.99) Film reference
books come in all shapes and sizes. and appeal to a variety of readers. from the video browser to the serious:
The list 31) August 12 September 199171
buff. Constructed around the milestones ofcinema and television history. this handbook is a well researched and useful volume that finds its strength in the juxtaposition ofthe two media — and in the wake of David Lynch. who is to say that this is not the path all such books will havetotake?
As well as the expected inclusion of the likesof ('itizen Kane and Alfred Hitchcock. the handbook has a host of informative entries on European filmmakers and the contemporary names that are likely to shape the future of the industries. It also works as an invaluable guide to film jargon — at last we can find out what the best boy gets up to with the dollygrip. ‘ Detailed cross-referencing throughout makes for hours of happy meandering and throws light on trends and developments over the years.
Also published is Chambers Film Quotes ((‘hambers £5.99). Editor 'l'ony (‘rawley has gathered together over 2000 quotations. all arranged under topic headings that include Bond (iirls. Ego and (‘elibacy It is the source of many a plunderable witticism. and is all the better for being bang up to date in the choice of '
1 its stars. (Alan Morrison) 1