! BEFORE THE BREAK
Novelist Candia McWilliam, a contributorto the new anthology Femmes de Siecle (see previous page) ' talks to Sue Wilson about her progress from matchbox-packing to publication.
. ‘I used to work during the university ' holidays at Vogue, because I won their talent contest when l was fifteen, and the prize is a job, which contrary to how It sounds is very unglamorous, even more so then, because it wasn’t part of the NUJ, and relied on people having a private income. I enjoyed it very much though, it was great experience —you got some idea about how magazines worked in those days, when there weren’t even electric typewriters, and we stuck everything down with Cow Gum, to which I was allergic, so I spent the whole time being sick.
Alter l Ielt university I went to work at Vogue lull-time, for about a year and a hall, then did various awlul jobs, the worst of which was working for a publisher who paid me titty quid on a Friday and subsequently borrowed it back; a really appalling job, lilting very heavy parcels onto lorries. Another one was packing jokes into matchboxes in a cellar, for Christmas novelties, which was lonely, degrading, invisible and protracted. Then by lluke I got a job with an advertising agency. It was very small, with the unlikely name of Slade, Stuff and Big, and mostly had accounts with charities. It really was lovely working there; in the morning you’d be doing kidney machines and the Liberal Party, then in the afternoon you‘d be doing Gucci — real Robin Hood stuff.
I was doing my own writing all through this time, but not in a way that paid very palpably; I think what I’d really lacked was any sense oi how to play the world ambitiously. ldon’tthink I had any confidence, and when the confidence came upon me, later, it was like sunshine.
So I worked at the agency, then in 1981 I married my lirst husband, since when I’ve been rearing children. I started writing visibly really quite late -I was dead old, twenty-nine or thirty, when A Case or Knives was published, but that’s one lorgiving thing about being a novelist, you’re still roughly ‘young’ until you're about lorty. I started to write the novel from the crudest of all possible motives, which was that I had to do something, and it had to lit in with having children. Sol wrote my novel in six months, then got In touch with an agent. And when Liz Calder lrom Bloomsbury rang to say .she wanted to publish, ltelt a sense at unreallty even greater than that l iusuaﬂvleeL
72 The List 6— 19 November 1992
I Lust Elfriede Jelinek (Serpent‘s Tail £8.99) Not a companion volume to Sex. In a small Austrian ski resort. ' sex-obsessed Hermann, boss of the local paper mill, decides it‘s safer, in the age of AIDS, to play at home than away. His marriage becomes a porn ﬂick; he‘s the star. For his financially dependent wife. Gerti, it‘s an extended sexual assault.
Without a word ofdialogue. the narrative works like a camera, panning across Hermann‘s
exploitation of his employees. homing in on his abuse ofGerti. with horrifying close-ups as he repeatedly rapes and degrades her. Gerti‘s son, a repellent little creep, is growing into an adult creep. Her lover rejects her as too old. Life is loveless — a let-down at best, vicious at worst. And such patterns endlessly. mechanically reproduce themselves across society.
A thorough rubbishing of romantic :
love, Lust is intricately written with a tumbling pace, sustained and effective word-play and plenty of sharp, cynical authorial observation. More than good. (Cathy Boylan)
I Sex And Sensibility Julie Burchill (Grafton £5.99) and Tinsel Show Pat Kane (Polygon £7.95). Play around with pop for a while and you‘re cursed for life. which is part ofthe reason these two music-biz celebs turned rent-an-opinion media figures attract so much vitriol. Only part ofthe reason ofcourse. Burchill has a self-regard that regularly outstrips her talent. Kane a pretension that outweighs his banal insights.
Burchill is the better writer in that her prose at least engages. The ‘sex‘ section of this collection of dated I
I The Porcupine Julian Barnes i
(Jonathan Cape £9.99) Barnes‘ neat political sketch is framed by a dialogue between the former Communist President and the Prosecutor General of an unnamed Soviet satellite immediately following its government‘s downfall. Set around their trial, during which the distinction between law and morality becomes the central issue. the simple story is like Ivan Klima without the domestics.
The characters are glib,
journalism is riddled by her usual scattergun vitriol but at least its targets (feminists. gays and poorly-hung men) remain consistent. and the results are often very funny. Stylish, though she certainly isn‘t. Once she spots a cute metaphor she tends to cling to it. Altamont being a particular favourite. cropping up to cover every eventuality. The trouble is. Julie needs to be read in context. This
stuff might stand out in its natural
habitat on the anodyne pages of the Mail On Sunday or the metropolitan
style rags. Here its relentless banging
on soon palls.
Kane palls around page 11. The man‘s first failing has always been his solipsism. his delusion that anyone actually cares what he‘s been reading, who he met in the pub. which philosophers he‘s pulled off the reading list this week. what George Galloway is thinking. His second is his turgid self-conscious prose style. Language, in its very structure, is the basis ofhow we free humans from oppression and degradation.‘ he claims. On that reckoning. most of Tinsel Show leaves the reader languishing in a Hizbollah dungeon. (Tom Lappin)
exaggerated men, giving their tale a schematic and representative edge, with added commentary from a group ofstudents, a grandmother, the Prosecutor‘s wife, the Head of Security and some statues. Barnes, however, is unable to fill out a society behind these figures. He is an informed outsider; his vision, though wiser than that of most in the West, perhaps, is journalistic rather than artistic. Only rarely does he communicate the humanity of these politicians, and thus the profundity of the experience of living through change. (Douglas McCabe)
I The Cat Sanctuary Patrick Gale (Flamingo£5.99) When Deborah‘s husband is assassinated she goes to recuperate on the Cornish moors with her estranged sister and her lover. It‘s not an easy reunion, and the two are soon raking over dark secrets of their past. Gale unsheaths the most difficult emotions with compelling observation. elegance and charm and. best of all, he knows when to stop.
I Imperial Caddy Joe Oucenan (Picador £5.99) No matter who is a heart-beat away from the US presidency as you read this. Dan Quayle will be making his pitch in ‘96. That‘s Queenan‘s thesis and. together with the usual round onuaylc-bashing, he has brought out a bizarre mix ofwacky statistics to prove it. Anti-Democrat tub-thumping apart, this is the funniest book on US presidential politics about.
I Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals Robert M. Persig (Black Swan £5.99) Ahh, Persigzl still have my copy of Zen and the Artof Motorcycle Maintenance with blood from a teenage nosebleed on page 76. What with his hero Phaedrus‘ ponderous j enquiries into Quality and introspective excursions into pseudo-philosophy on a Hudson River boat trip. I doubt whether Lila will be around as long.
I The Woman Lil by Fireflies Jim Harrison (Flamingo £5.99) The title tale in this collection of three short stories says more in its 70 pages than Persig does in 470. Harrison brings failed radicalism. sexuality. emancipation and humour into sad focus in this story of a woman‘s dash for freedom.
I Look M II This Way Justin Cartwright (Picador £5.99) Lions and otherpredators are on the prowl in London. A journalist, a city broker, advertising accountants and stall-holders incisively strut their stuff through Cartwright‘s satire. Crisply written, its only trouble is that it just isn‘t as funny as it thinks it is. (Thom Dibdin)
I Clive Barker John Smith & Son,57 Vincent Street, 221 7472. Fri 6, noon. Free. The legendary horror writer will be signing copies of his latest novel The Thief ofAIways (HarperCollins£10.99).
I John Mitchell John Smith & Son, 57 Vincent Street, 221 7472. Thurs 12, 6.30pm. Free. The creator of Scotland‘s favourite long-suffering schoolmaster, launching the revised edition ofMorris Simpson‘s diaries Class Struggle (Hodder & Stoughton £4.99), with Frank Pignatelli
and and Jack McLean.
I Barry Norman Filmhouse, Lothian Road, 228 2688. Fri 6. Free. The main ticketed event, with the TV film guru in conversation with Filmhouse director Jim Hickey, is SOLD OUT, but he will be signing copies of his One Hundred Best Films of the Century (Chapmans £16. 99) in the foyer afterwards, atabout8. 45pm.
I Liz Lochhead, Edwin Morgan, Norman McCaig Waterstone's, 132 Union Street, 2210890. Mon 16, 7.30pm. Free. Reading and signing session to celebrate the launch of Three Scottish Poets (Canongate. £4.95).
I Valerie Glllles and Harvey Ilolton The Netherbow, 43 High Street. 5569579.
Wed 11, 7.45pm. £2 (£1). The Poetry Association of Scotland presents a reading of new work to celebrate an exhibition of Douglas Robertson‘s paintings and sculpture, in collaboration with the two poets.
I Elizabeth Stuart Friends‘ Meeting House, 7 Victoria Street, info 5560079. Thur 12, 8pm. £1 . The editor ofthe controversial gay and lesbian prayer-book Daring to Speak Love's Name (Hamish Hamilton £7.99) will speak at the book‘s Scottish launch.
I Owen Dudley Edwards Central Library. George IV Bridge, 225 5584. Tue 17, noon. Free. The Irish-born historian will talk about ‘the literary history ofthe Pre-Raphaelite movement.‘