FICTION EPIC SWEEP
I The Campaign Carlos Fuentes (Andre Deutsch £14.99) Without some element of levity. even the most incisive historical novel starts to read like an academic text. a tendency this book cogently exemplifies. Heralded as Part 1 of a trilogy charting the Latin-American struggle for independence. it is self-consciously epic in scale; the teachings of Rousseau. Diderot and Voltaire jockey for position on pages stuffed with romances. wars and coups raging from Argentina to Mexico. Hopelessly overshadowed by the grandeur of the history which they inhabit. too often the characters sound like mouthpieces for the author‘s intellectual musings. Nevertheless. the wanderings of Baltasar Bustos. the fat. young revolutionary. do make for an engaging narrative. and Fuentes writes with lavish romanticism of the land. people and ideas that forged his continent: you cannot help but slide into the emotional and intellectual upheaval which accompanied the birth of modern Latin America. But lofty thoughts and beautiful writing are not enough. In the end. Fuentes never , quite manages to pull offthat elusive feat ofliterary alchemy: to convert historical polemic into compellingly readable fiction. (Carl Honorc’)
I A Long Cold Fall Sam Reaves (Serpent‘s Tail £7.99) Introducing Cooper McGleish: the taxi driving Vietnam vet with a conscience. who attracts just that little bit more trouble than most Chicagoans. When ex-lover Vivian commits
_ BEFORE THE BREAK
Bess Ross was too busy raising a large family in Ross-shire to start writing until recently, but the late start seems to have done her no harm — last year’s debut collection of short stories and her recently published first novel, Those Other Times, were both warmly received: ‘After I left school, I moved down to Edinburgh and worked for a few years cleaning houses, looking after the kids, that sort ofthing. When I came back north I did office work for a while — clerking, doing the books and so on. I've never really gone back to full-time work since I got married; I've done a lot of things like part-time office work, tattie-picking, tattle-dressing —various jobs on the farm.
‘I tend to be quite happy at whatever I'm at; I just sort of get in there and get on with it. It helps, I think — maybe this is part of being a writer when I didn’t even know it — but I tend to drift off into a dream-world when I’m not using my brain; I found I was always working things out in my head, all the time while I was cleaning offices, or picking
j tatties, or whatever, my brain would be ; whirring away. I think, with hindsight
and a bit of maturity, I can see it as storing things up for later; it's as though I was a sponge, almost. soaking everything in.
‘I left school at sixteen, with quite a lot of potential, but there wasn't the money to keep me on — I was one of nine — so I came out of school unfinished, as it were, and at the back of my mind I always knew that one day I would go on to finish off. I sort of fell into writing by accident, it's not
something I could ever have foreseen. I came to a stage in my life a few years ago where I was taking stock, looking around me, and it was almost like the writing sort of burst up out of me, although maybe it was always lying there dormant. I think going back to school, sitting for my Highers, was what prompted that; it opened up English for me again, which was something that had Iain dormant for a long while.
‘I think I’d really date the start of my writing career with the novel that's just come out; with the stories I felt I was just doodling at writing, to see if I could do it, going along to the writers’ group every fortnight, gaining a wee bit of confidence to say what I wanted to say. With the novel, I've come out of the shadows, as it were; this is what I really want to say. We raised a glass, when it was accepted, but we tend to celebrate fairly low-key; the past eight years have been pretty hectic. Really the greatest celebration is just five minutes peace, I think.’ (Sue Wilson)
famous publishing house, detailing
; with predictable American candour
suicide, it seems quite natural that he i should search for her missing son and '
concern himselfwith the question of ' whether she jumped of her own volition — even if it does entail a particularly gruesome run-in with a home-carpentry set.
Reaves‘s new hero is somewhat to the left ofTravis Biekle in Taxi Driver, but comes nowhere close to the good-time liberalism ofSara Paretsky‘s V.I. Warshawski. even if he is harder-boiled. While the publicists have compared the two, Reaves merely scratches the surface of the city which Paretsky has made her own. However. if Reaves can get Cooper to network a bit more with the Chicago underworld — his current contacts there are decidedly thin — he should survive a few thrilling. and blood-spattered, yarns yet. (Thom Dibdin)
I In the Company of Writers Charles Scribner Jr (Scribners £14.95) Charles Scribner relives his years in publishing at the helm of his family’s
his shortcomings and more often his triumphs, in steering the business through the postwar economy.
Only a small portion of this slim volume is afforded to the numerous writers encountered, with a concentration on Hemingway, whose ‘very nice side‘ Scribner endeavours to project. If the book is disappointing in this respect (and somewhat misleading, given the title), it compensates with explanations of the business history ofAmerican publishing. lamenting the supplanting ofcultural by commercial priorities. It‘s a conservative and privileged view of the book world, but nonetheless an interesting one, though it occasionally verges on being an undisguised advertisement for the Scribner institution. (Charlie Llewellyn)
I Bankrupt: The BCCI Fraud Nick Kochan and Bob Whittington (Gollancz £4.99) The closure of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International was one of the media events of last summer. In Scotland
attention was focused on the plight ofthe Western Isles Council who managed to lose £23 million in the bank’s collapse. They carried off their incompetence with a certain panache, depositing the final £1 .3 million fifteen minutes before BCCI's doors were shut. Bankrupt is an opportunist attempt to cash in with a potth history while interest in the subject still simmers. The
, authors are freelance financial
f journalists and the book is not, it has ; to be said, a work ofgreat literary
; merit, rushed out as it was between
the bank‘s closure and the original
date of the winding-up order — or
would have been, had publication
not been delayed by a libel writ. For all the problems it’s an
incredible tale,- reading like a f fevered screenplay for the mystic, i Islamic version of Dallas, up to its
eyeballs in cocaine, arms deals and malpractice. The star of the show is Agha Hasan Abedi, who set up the bank in 1972, and for the next sixteen years presided over its remarkable growth, preaching Sufism at board meetings while the bank scrambled for the accounts of drug dealers and terrorists. Why did it all go on for so long? Could it have been that the
l l l l l l l l l l s l l
British security services got the Bank of England to turn a blind eye so they could monitor the movements of drugs money and terrorist funds? Even though the eventual collapse would leave large numbers ofpeople destitute? Nah, our secret police are too public-spirited for that. aren‘t they? (Keith Davidson)
I The Snowman Princes Square. Buchanan Street. Glasgow. 221 0324. Sun 22. 7.30pm. £3. A narrated performance of Howard Blake‘s Christmas story. with music from members of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. The narrator is Johnny Morris. who will also be reading some of his stories for children. with mulled wine and mince pies available in the interval.
I Book Sale (1) Edinburgh Book Market. Freemasons‘ Hall. 96 George Street. info Jenny Renton 228 1038. Sat 21/Mon 23 10am—5pm. The Scottish branch of I’I'IN. the writers‘ human rights organisation, are holding a fundraising stall with hundreds of second-hand and nearly-new books. many in mint condition — ideal for last-minuute Christmas presents. Ifyou have books to donate. please call 041 357 0327/03] 225 1038 to arrange collection.
I Book Sale (2) James Thin, 53—59 South Bridge, 556 6743. Starts Sat 28, 9am. Thin‘s annual books bonanza
starts here, continuing until
mid-January. with thousands of titles available at half-price or less.
‘Oooh, those eyebrows, aaah, those legs. eaugh, the fagl' All the components of the Marlene Dietrich Image, created both by and for her, are examined in a Dietrich's Own Style-The Amazing Blonde Woman, Patrick O'Connor (Bloomsbury £20), a new photo-biography published to coincide with the great 20th Century lcon's 90th Birthday. Interesting, well researched, but still destined forthe coffee table. (Thom Dibdin)
The List 20 December 1991 - 16 January 1992 93