FICTION GHOST WRITERS
I The Dark Descent ed. David G. Hartwell (HarperCollins £12.99 hb/£8.99 pb) Collections of horror’supernatural/ghost stories aren't exactly a rare commodity, but few reach beyond their own niche in the market and attempt to place the genre in an evolving seam of literature. In their complete. three-volume form - the third will not be published until next May— the 60 stories of The Dark Descent provide a near-definitive guide to the history ofone ofthe most experimental ofall literary genres. The latest volume is in itselfan illuminating introduction to the breadth ofwriting that can be termed horror. From the classic ghost story of Oliver Onions‘ The Beckoning Fair One to the Lovecraftian feel of modern shockmeister Stephen King‘s Crouch End. taking in en route the much ignored influence of SF writers such as Gene Wolfe and the exquisite psychological tension ofThomas M. Disch, this is a hugely entertaining book that is sure to open new doors for newcomers and horror fans alike. (Alan Morrison)
VIOLENCE IS GOLDEN
I Mao II Don DeLiIIo (Jonathan Cape £14.99) Hooded. bound and periodically beaten. the hostage thinks it is ‘hard to adapt to the absence ofsense-making things'. This simple objective statement from an icon of the 805, or maybe from a character in a fragment within a novel, is equally relevant to a single life or to the whole of human history. With similarly deceptive simplicity the other characters and themes in this work reflect current and eternal preoccupations. The individual dilemma, whether to act or to observe, expands and dissolves into the wishes and movements of crowds, the need of masses to believe, to act as one, to invent sense-making things and creeds in order to explain their insignificance and mitigate their quiet desperation. Carefully constructed belief systems are now brutally confronted by acts of terrorism and violence, against which no moral argument has the slightest power. This confrontation is all the more effective since broadcast images make verbal description redundant and, for a worldwide generation, television is the familiar medium. The message here is read the book and not the review: it is the first I have ever wanted to start again without delay. (Sally Macpherson)
FIRST PERSON SINGULAR
I Goodness Tim Parks. The age of the yuppie may be in decline but Tim Parks‘s Goodness is nonetheless a pertinent and needle-sharp tale of middle-class aspirations brought into
72 The List 13 — 26 September 1991
conflict with deep-seated desires and needs.
Written in the first person of George Crawley, Goodness forsakes superficial illustration of champagne lifestyles for a grittier, more intelligent study of the undercurrents which constrict and ultimately suffocate relationships. George, grappling with his self-sacrificing mother and the piety
he imbibed as a child, finds his dream '
marriage with Shirley souring as she realises that children are more important to her than holidays in Turkey and a job in the city. Feeling
by turns hard done-by and gallant in his own sacrifice, George eventually relents. But when a child, Hilary, is finally born, she suffers from severe disabilities, throwing George’s life into greater turmoil.
Parks’s book is all the more enjoyable for the humour he employs to strip bare George’s hollow ambition. When he takes a mistress to compensate for his sexless marriage, George justifies it to Shirley in advance, arguing that it is the trend to have more than one lover. This is a taut and pacey novel from an able writer who manipulates language to make us smile even o while he chips away at the false pedestal of selflessness which we have all taken a turn at standing on. (Aaron Hicklin)
FUHRER EYES ONLY
I Tales of the Master Race (Lime Grove £13.99) One man, one ball, one-armed salute. For an insignificant corporal with a couple of revolutionary ideas, Hitler enjoys an enduring fascination. After the plethora of Guardian articles. innumerable TV retrospectives and
incalculable historical studies comes '
the latest in a long line of American novels.
Marcie Hershman‘s first book, Tales of the Master Race, attempts to lift the lid on the subterranean goings-on in small-town Germany during the Third Reich. Hershman writes well and the use oforiginal documentary material from the period to open each paragraph gives her tales an eerie authenticity. But even though she adopts the personalities of town clerks and construction workers rather than the twisted minds of Germany‘s leaders, the ground trodden is familiar and, as a result, sanitised. Nothing can possibly shock us about Nazi atrocities any more and as this book’s primary goal is to shock, it
falls short of the mark. (Philip Parr)
I A Matter of Survival Anita Gordon and David Suzuki (HarperCollins £7.99) ‘We have just one decade in which to avert the environmental destruction ofour planet . . .’ write Gordon and Suzuki, and the sound of readers switching off is almost audible. But having recited their
‘I think many of the best actors are instinctive rather than intellectual,‘ writes John Gielgud as he runs through a long life of playing Shakespeare, from Henry V in 1921 to the recently released Prospero’s Books. He clearly counts himself among those same instinctive actors, lightly dismissing adherents of the Method School -
American actors ‘who wanted
motivation for Shakespeare’s supporting parts' -while admitting with uncommon honesty that in his early performances there was much he didn’t understand and that it was only his faith in Shakespeare’s verse that got him through.
In this way, Shakespeare - Hit or Miss? (a title both uninspired and of little relevance) is a wonderfully practical book. Gielgud has the best part of a century’s worth of anecdote on which to draw and he writes, briskly and candidly, from the points of view of both actor and spectator. He also makes a claim for himself as director, having produced over 50 plays in his time, but he is no theoretician; his insight is born of intuition and the experience of working in front of an audience and it is for these reasons that he is interesting.
The volume opens with a resume of Gielgud’s Shakespearlan career by John Miller and finishes with a series of detailed appendices including reviews and cast lists. All
commendable inclusions, but the substance of the book is Gielgud’s own contribution; a lively play-by-play account that cheerfully recounts his own and his peers' successes and failures. He doesn’t dwell for long in any one place which sometimes leaves you wanting more, but his honesty, modesty and sense of humour make for an illuminating and entertaining read. Fascinating for the general theatre-goer, essential for the would-be classical actor, Gielgud’s book demonstrates the kind of understanding only acquired by a lifetime of performing and re-performing Shakespeare. And what other great actor could provide such amusing commentary on Laurence Olivier's penchant for false noses? (Mark Fisher) Shakespeare - Hit or Miss? is published by Sidgwick & Jackson priced £17.50.
obligatory selection from the litany ofenvironmental cock-ups, this is lucid stuff which goes that bit further than most eco-catastrophe tomes.
The ritual recycling-as-solution line is replaced with an examination ofsix ‘sacred truths‘ about population, economic growth, waste and other factors which affect the relationship between humanin and our natural environment. These, the authors hold, are fundamental to our society but are no more sacred than they are true.
This perspective allows the book to provide some solutions to the problems it is outlining without being prescriptive. The chapter on overpopulation, never an easy subject to tackle, is particularly illuminating. This book deserves a wider audience than its cover or publicity material are likely to give it. (Thom Dibdin)
I A Closed Eye Anita Brookner (Jonathan Cape £13.99) Harriet — who could have been saved from dullness - leads a life of mediocrity: married to a far older, physically repulsive friend of her parents, devoted to an obnoxious daughter, and doomed to sample vicariously the thrills of her exploitative friend Tessa‘s liason with the infinitely sexy Jack. When Tessa dies, her only
avenue ofexcitement is effectively sealed.
That Brookner manages to arouse and sustain interest in her middle—class. middle-of—the-road protagonist is quite something. Moreover she succeeds in portraying I a woman has let herself down — through her indulgence and her lack of courage — with minimum pathos or emotion. The end result is curiously compulsive. (Miranda France)
NON-FICTION DIRECT ACTION
I Diary of a Young Soul Rebel Isaac Julien and Colin MacCabe (BFI Publishing £10.95) Tying in with the release of Young Soul Rebels the movie, this is an intriguing tour of the film set and the director‘s thoughts while shooting. Like the movie. it‘s a sometimes flawed project, but what it loses in the diary of patronising middle-class executive producer MacCabe, it more than makes up for with the articulacy of directorJulien.
A lively discussion between Julien and African American feminist theoretician, Bell Hookes. on black filmmaking illuminates the problems ofproducing any independent movie in the UK, let alone a black movie in which two of the protagonists are gay. The inclusion of the complete