If there’s one place in Edinburgh you can imagine Sir Les Paterson drinking, it’s the Tommy Younger Bar on Leith Walk. i suspect I was the only one to get the joke in the 3000-seater Playhouse
when Barry Humphries last brought his
entourage oi alter-egos to Scotland, but sure enough that’s just where the Australian Cultural Attache claimed to have spent the afternoon.
Something brought out in ‘Dame Edna Everage and the Rise of Western Civilisation’ by John Lahr— he of Prick Up Your Ears iame— is Humphries’ commitment to uncovering such local colour to bolster his comic onslaught. Each night he gets an assistant to tilt out a ‘victim map’ to plot where suitably amusing ‘obese women and pathetic seniors' are sitting in the stalls. He will already have been briefed on key details about the town in which he is playing. ‘He likes to do that because it gives the character a kind oi vividness,’ says Lahr whose book is less a biography than an ‘an attempt to capture a moment in a great clown’s liie'.
Based on a month spent in the wings ot the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, during the 1989 run at Back With A
Vengence, Lahr's book is both a celebration oi and an investigation into the achievement oi a comic genius. Ample helpings oi Dame Edna’s abrasive chatter are interspersed with glimpses of a much more reticent Humphries. ‘Barry has actually got a very thin skin,’ says Lahr, ‘and is very sensitive to any sort of negative judgement. One at his sell-protective mechanisms is to put things that society might judge as negative behaviour— drinking, aggression, anger, revenge- into the characters and then denies that they’re him. (Mark Fisher) Dame Edna Everage and the Rise at Western Civilisation is published by Bloomsbury at £14.99.
I Jump and other stories Nadine Gordimer (Bloomsbury £13.99) Braver and more fitting though it would have been to have awarded Gordimer the Nobel earlier in her 40-year writing career. and before the current easing of the emergency. the consistent integrity of these stories demonstrates clearly why she did and still does deserve the prize. Fifteen tales. some set outside, but mostly within, southern Africa, vividly depict an event. a scene. an atmosphere, using a variety of voices. While the descriptions appear impartial, they leave no doubt as to moral responsibility and the inescapable involvement of those who profit from a social order in which they claim to play no active part. Each of the characters — a farm girl, a suburban businessman jogging outside a safe zone. a refugee child, a political activist living underground — strains to make sense of the surrounding circumstances, for themselves and for the reader. Central to the collection, and most poignant, is The Moment Before the Gun Went Off, which arouses memories of the much earlier Country Love, dealing similarly with the criminal hypocrisy ofany regime which denies the basic humanity of another race, sex or person. And it makes you weep. (Sally Macpherson)
I Songs 0t The Doomed Hunter S Thompson (Picador Hardbacks, £15.99) Gathering together material from the late 505 to the early 905. this third volume of the Gonzo Papers seems fated to come off second-best to The Great Shark Hunt. For the most part. the highlights in this collection are too thinly spread for it to match up to its savage and unnatural predecessor, although it does fill in gaps by reprinting, for example, HST's experiences in Saigon in the weeks leading up to the evacuation (a hell ofa time to find out you’ve been sacde and your health insurance cancelled); an as-it-happens account of the author’s
‘First Visit With Mescalito'.
hammered out in a hotel room one crazed night in 1969; and some dumb, probably fictitious. but very funny interludes like ‘Sugarloaf Key: Tales Of'l‘he Swine Family'; plus some letters, brutal expenses claims and even fiction.
Those who maintain that Gonzo is an abominable self-glorification will find plenty ofammunition in Thompson‘s coverage of his own arrest. But even ifsome of the later communiques from Owl Farm are tired in comparison with choice cuts from the good Doctor‘s glory days. his prose is still charged with a madness and wisdom few living writers can match. (Alastair Mabbott)
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The List 25 October— 7 November l99l 75