I Fates Worse Than Death Kurt Vonnegut (Jonathan Cape £14.99) ‘Mr Vonnegut is not available for interview’ to publicise the new annotated collection ofessays and lectures which make up this autobiographical look at the 80s. Not that he needs to be: ‘Isn‘t your speech on doing without the hydrogen bomb rather naive?‘ one might be tempted to ask. and there on page 149 is his answer and admission that yes. ‘I must have blown a gasket‘ before giving the speech.
There is an easy. almost lazy style which pervades this book. you can practically hear him speaking the words out loud. But these are not the ramblings of an old man who happened to live through the firestorm in Dresden. whose father was an architect. who had that Salman Rushdie over for lunch and who can bullshit about Jackson Pollock better than the next writer. It is a work ofgreat wit and charm from one of America‘s great humanists. (Thom Dibdin)
SNOW PLACE LIKE HOME
I The Lost Salt Gift of Blood Alistair MacLeod (Jonathan Cape £14.99) Alistair MacLeod worked for a dozen years to write the twelve stories in this book. If that makes you think that MacLeod ﬂies on ﬂights of fancy. exploring new dimensions. conjuring images which take a year of planning and execution, think again. For this Scots-Canadian never ventures beyond the boundaries of his home territory — the icy wastes of Cape Breton. Nova Scotia.
He adopts different characters. often children. and tells a simple story — the death of a father. or a dog. or a horse; or the life ofan isolated islander. There is an omnipresent melancholy as the characters battle constantly against cold. poverty and loneliness. But through this sombre landscape MacLeod manages to convey the irresistibility of his country and. even as you start to feel the frostbite on your own fingers. you want to travel there and experience this agonisingly beautiful life for yourself. (Philip Parr)
I Judge On Trial Ivan Klima (Chatto and Windus, £14.99) With the first English translation of this long. deceptively simple novel (originally published in Klima‘s native Czechoslovakia in 1978. though banned until recently) the potential implied in Love and Garbage and A Summer Affair is amply confirmed. The formal design of the story centres on the public and personal dilemmas of a Prague judge asked to mover a murder case. the book
78 The List 8— 21 November I991
Despite critical and popular success in the rest of Europe, few in Britain have heard of French writer Marie Cardinal, an undeserved neglect which her newly-translated novel Devotion and Disorder should do much to rectify. A powerful, disturbing story about a teenage heroin addict and her
psychologist mother, it examines the . way chaos can overwhelm even the . most tightly-ordered existence - and
the various ways we often help that to happen. ‘We know, because it‘s a physical law, that disorder is a more usual state than order,‘ she explains.
‘According to the the laws of
thermodynamics, the more you try to put things in order, the more disorder 3 you create. The mother in the novel,
she‘s completely in control of her life —
3 atthe top ofherprotession,well-known f alloverthe world—butherdaughter‘s ; addiction destroys it all. She tries to
reimpose some order by writing about it, through a ghostwriter, but that simply creates even more disorder—at the end of the book the ghostwriter’s life has been totally disrupted as well.‘ As well as using heroin addiction to explore our love-hate relationship with disorder, the novel also examines the nature of addiction itself. The daughter argues at one point that being a junkie is no different to being hooked on a more acceptable kind of fix. ‘lt‘s the same with money, career, success, the
family, beauty, religion! It‘s never you who exist; it's what gives you your energy that exists; it’s the carrot you’re running alter.‘ Cardinal believes that almost everyone is addicted to something. ‘We all need to be addicted
—without addiction our lives can seem
very boring,’ she says. ‘In our society
f people are often addicted to their jobs,
to the idea of making a career. They always try to be in control of their lives,
; but they should be aware of the danger i of that actually creating disorder as , well as order; addiction itself is a kind
of disorder. Butthen disorder is necessary and natural — I think it helps to know that, it makes life seem less trightening.‘ (Sue Wilson)
Devotion and Disorder is published by the Women’s Press at £6.95.
divides into episodes from his past (notably childhood memories of a concentration camp) and present (his moral opposition to the party line. his affair with a colleague‘s wife). An intricate pattern of
parallels and counterpoints develops . through his guarded thoughts. where
all he seems certain of is the need to
remember his own past with
The attention to detail belittles the
huge paradoxes which hang over his story. Here is a man put on trial to test his political conformity. the son of a man imprisoned for his faith in the party running the country. Beautiful and haunting. it ranks among the best publications in English this year. (Douglas McCabc)
I An Iranian Odyssey Gohar Kordi (Serpent's'l‘ail £6.99) Born in an
Iranian village. (iohar Kordi became
blind at the age of four: after begging on the streets of'I‘eheran. she fought to obtain an education for herself. eventually becoming the first blind
female student at 'l‘eheran
University. This harrowing veiled autobiography is a moving. powerful account ofwoman‘s struggle in a world which. blindness aside.
already casts her as disabled for being female in a society where patriarchal values are so entrenched that the birth ofa daughter is seen as a deeply lamentable event.
Monir ( Kordi's surrogate narrative self) loses her sight. but never her vision. The novel works effectively via flashbacks which gradually form a general. often uplifting picture of the author‘s oppressed existence: portraits ofan indolent father— a kind of'l‘urkish Micawber — and a downtrodden but unflinching mother are especially affecting. Iranian customs and culture are deftly presented as a shocking. hypocritical mix ofquaintness and barbaric anti-feminism. Illuminating. often devastating stuff. (Paul W. Ilullah)
NON-FICTION KNOW IT ALL
I New Chambers Reference Books A concentrated ﬂurry of handy info-packed volumes. varying in approach from the scholarly to the populist. Take your pick from potted histories of 1 150 world politicians. activists. rebels and thinkers from Aristotle to Zhikov ( The ('hambers Dictionary of Political Biography.
. £4.99). including world croquet i champions and rare infectious
‘ you might feel the urge to specialise a wee bit. in which case you want one i ofthe first eight Chambers (‘ompact
; which cover the occult. great
5 discoveries. mythology. masters of
i brought to a zoo specifically to breed ‘
£17.99); 25.000 Scottish firsts. lasts. greatests. smallests. dates and other statistics (Scotland: The Facts. £4.99) or 100.000 things you might not have known about 250 different fields of interest (Chambers Quick Facts.
diseases (and how to catch them). Or
Rdwencc volumes (£5.99 each).
inventions through history. great modern inventions. great scientific
jazz. musical masterpieces and religious readers. Alternately. you could swallow the whole lot and impress (or bug the hell out of) your friends in the pub for the rest ofyour life. (Sue Wilson)
I Brazzaville Beach William Boyd (Penguin £4.99) Analogies aplenty in Boyd's ‘No l bestseller‘ as I-Iope (‘learwaten African beach inhabitant and chimpanzee surveyor. finds startling similarities between the surprisingly antagonistic apes and her own experiences. Though the writing seems effortless. there‘s no lack of either skill or poignancy — you‘re unlikely to read a more thought-provoking novel this year. I Hackenfeller’s Ape Brigid Brophy (Virago Modern Classics £5.99) More monkey business in this seriously (or rather whimsically) odd first novel. first published in 1954. These days. the story of an animal
would undoubtedly replace the IIackenfeller with a Chi-Chi or Ling-Ling. but the choice ofchimp enables bonds of friendship to develop between man and closest cousin. leading to the emphatic conclusion that man and animal are 3 too closely linked for one to consign ; the otherto a life ofconfinernent. Morethananythingthough.it‘s fun. i I In The Image of God Simon Raven l l l
(Grafton £3.99) Number six in Raven‘s First Born of Egypt sequence. itselfa sequel to the ten-book. Aims For Oblivion series. Maybe I‘m missing something (never having read the previous works) but this is convoluted tripe. Even the names make the head spin: ‘Piero Caspar who escorted him there. is very doubtful. On balance. his judgement is that Marius would have played Judas had he met Jeremy.’ That's on the first page. and it continues in the same vein. poorly written and giddin over-the-top. No doubt the quasi-aristos it parodies will love it (or pretend to).
I Injury Time Beryl Bainbridge (Penguin £4.99) Entrenched in a long-term dalliancc with another woman. Edward finally decides to face up to his responsibilities. Not a divorce. but an attempt to make mistress Binny feel genuinely like