I The Ape That Spoke John McCrone (Picador £5.99). Language, argues McCrone. is the critical factor in human evolution; the tool that has enabled us to be self~aware, rational and philosophical, though perhaps not all as rational or philosophical as McCrone himself. It is a fascinating argument, lucidly discussed and made accessible through the use of colourful metaphor.
I The Life and Death of My Lord Gilles de Bais Robert Nye (Abacus £4.99). As a portrait of utter depravity, this is an extraordinarily convincing and unusually moving work, deftly employing the historical figures of Joan ofArc and dc Rais — the model for Bluebeard — to redraw the reader‘s definition of good and evil. I I Was Dora Suarez Derek Raymond (Abacus £4.99). The slashing proceeds at a frenetic pace in the first chapter. but three gruesome (and vivid) murders later. the novel settles into a more intelligent scheme. with no real heroes but lots of psychoanalysis. Raymond is a wordsmith ofobvious talent. but his voyeuristic detail spares no one.
I Travels in Mauretania Peter Hudson (Flamingo £5.99). To Westerners. Mauretania is one of the many blank spaces perched on the map of Africa; magical because we know so little about it. Yet Hudson wastes an ideal opportunity to dispense with the myths. instead emphasising the strange and the exotic. A pity, as this sort of condescension is the last thing Africa needs.
I Last Chance to See Douglas Adams and Mark Cawardine (Pan £5.99). Douglas Adams takes a break from imaginary planets to go travelling around our own, describing dangers rather more immediate and real than those encountered by his galactic
hitchhikers. Perceptive and satirical, the book is sometimes very funny, while constantly keeping us aware of the increasingly urgent battle for the environment: a rare combination indeed.
I Franky Furbo William Wharton (Sceptre £4.99). I grew up on Warership Down and Narnia, and with this eco-tale in which a fox turns out to represent the dawn of a new master-species. William Birdy Wharton took me back to my childhood fantasies. Sneer as one may, it‘s an animal story which will charm and enthral.
I The Penguin Book of Lies edited by Philip Kerr (Penguin £3.99). A volume entitled The Penguin Book of Truth would doubtless excite little interest. but we thrive upon lies. and this collection pays tribute to a glorious — sometimes shameful — tradition. Plato. Swift. Wilde. Shaw, Shere Hite and Thatcher all figure. discussing everything from faked orgasms to the Belgrano. Extracts from Hitler‘s Mein Kampfstrikc a more sobering note. but the editor is
BEFORE THE BREAK
Our series where writers talk about their pre-publication careers continues with Elspeth Barker, whose debut novel 0 Caledonia won the David Higham Prize last year.
‘l've always known I wanted to be a writer, except for wanting to be a princess when I was about three. When lwas younger I wrote all the time, and I did a bit of reviewing when the children were very small, until total exhaustion took over. I was also doing odd bits oi private scribbling in notebooks, various exceedingly nauseating stream-oI-consciousness things. When I eventually started again I did some work lorthe Observer, and a few short stories, mainly for my own pleasure. I'm not confident about my writing —I was lucky in being virtually told to write a novel. My editor had read my articles, and asked me if I was thinking of writing a book, so we talked about it, she told me to write two thousand words, and it was accepted on that basis. That was a tremendous boost, of course, and from there I just got on with it. It was very different from the occasional stuff I had been doing, much more exciting - you’re completely taken over by it, you never know what’s going to happen next.
‘I didn’t find it frustrating at all, having my time taken up with the family, I loved it, I love babies. One does always have the awful sense of time passing, though, and of not having done certain things that you had intended to do earlier. Also, as you get older you do tend to lose confidence about a lot of things, and so ill hadn't been given that push I might still be
dithering around putting it off.
‘Once the children were all at school I was offered a job teaching Latin and Greek at a local girls’ school, which I did for about ten years. I never set out to teach; it just happened that this job came up and I found I enjoyed it a lot— it was good to go back to the languages I’d always loved. It’s something which has influenced my own writing quite strongly, I think; the vocabulary I use, the way I construct sentences tends to be fairly Latinate. Teaching combined fairly well with writing, up to a point, though when l was finishing 0 Caledonia l was getting desperately exhausted. I was teaching almost full-time, and in the end it was getting to be too much—I kept falling asleep in the oddest places.
‘I remember when the book was accepted, there was a hurricane that night, and I went to the nearest town to buy large quantities of drink, driving through falling trees all the way, convinced I was going to be killed, but I wasn't, and so I was able to celebrate in the traditional manner— by getting completely drunk.’ (Sue Wilson)
in no doubt that without lies life would be unbearably dull. (Aaron Hicklin)
I In Between Talking About the Football Gordon Legge (Polygon, £7.95) The dole-queue subculture created by Thatcherism. a world of boredom, bullshit and borrowed fivers. where life revolves in fortnightly cycles, is a neglected subject for fiction. Few who haven‘t experienced the sub-subsistence lifestyle of a DHSS income can grasp what it‘s really like when even most cheap thrills are too expensive. Gordon Legge has evidently spent his fair share of‘Summers on the Dole‘ (the title ofthe first story in this lively collection); he captures with a pungent. earthy accuracy the desperate flavour ofcomradeship between people united only by lack of work. the conversations about nothing between people with nothing to do. He conveys the restless race of under-occupied minds trying to fill up empty days. the ﬂeeting highs— the pub on giro
day. a football game (and talking about it). someone showing up unexpectedly with a bit ofdope.
There's a snappy. almost throwaway feel to the writing, fragments offragmented experience. memories of happier times conveyed in short. broken sentences and vivid dialogue. The voices of the characters inhabiting these bleak lives — single parents. insecure young men. sharp-tongued young women. the lonely or dotty elderly — ring true with a dogng resilience; battered, bruised and bitter they may be. but they're surviving. so far, ifonly just. (Sue Wilson)
I Voices From The Scottish Hunger Marches Volume II edited by Ian MacDougall (Polygon. £9.95) Following hard on the heels ofthe first volume, published in 1990, this new collection follows the same format, each chapter containing the oral recollections of a man or woman who marched for bread in the 30s. MacDougall has succeeded in distilling what must have been hours
of taped interviews into stories that blow your socks off— readers with little understanding ofthe terrible harshness oflife during the Depression will be in fora rude awakening. The reminiscences focus not just on the marches. organised by the National Unemployed Workers‘ Movement. but give an anecdotal flavour ofthe background conditions which provoked the marchers to action in the first place.
The official Labour movement‘s shunning ofthe demonstrations- the NUWM had a strong Communist element — is a recurrent theme. which has echoes in the ongoing saga of the Labour Party. Militant and the anti-poll tax movement today. MacDougall is to be commended for getting all this down on paper before it‘s too late — and for reminding us that there were hunger marches other than the one from Jarrow.
The World Environment Atlas (Bartholomew. £7.99) uses accessible. colour-coded cartography to illustrate a wide range of environmental phenomena. Geology, meteorology. pollution. demography. health and the global economy are just some of the topics examined in easy-to-follow diagrams and charts, supplemented by a concise but informative text, tables ol statistics and a useful green glossary.
I Brian Whittingham and Friends Scotia Bar, 112—1 14 Stockwell Street. 552 8681. 8.30pm. Free. Informal poetry reading in the convivial surroundings of Glasgow‘s oldest pub.
I Not The Burns Supper Traverse Theatre Bar, 112 West Bow, info 229 4730/66] 5687. 7.30pm. £4 (£2 at door). A ‘Ceilidh-Come-All-Ye' evening ofcabaret and music, organised by Cencrasrus magazine as part of its MacDiarmid centenary celebrations. With various stars of screen, page and radio including Sheena MacDonald as ‘Heid Bummer'.1ain Crichton Smith giving the Immoral Memory (sic), with music from the Vladimir Ilych Ulyanov Ceilidh Band.
65 The List 17 — 30 January 1992