Bloomsbury’s latest range of small, attractively packaged hardbacks instantly transforms popular 805 books into ‘classics’ at a mid-range price of around £10.
One obvious choice is Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot. Barnes’ tale is postmodernism at its most accessible , skilfully mixing detective novel and literary criticism in the story of one man’s search for the soul of Flaubert.
More prescient is the decision to reprint Booker-winner Michael Ondaatje’s memoir Running in the Family. Ondaatje returns from Canada to his native Sri Lanka in search of a vanished age, when mixed-blood aristocrats drank gin
slings under the stars and danced the -
Charleston in the jungle to a wind-up gramophone. Memories, poems, reﬂections and passages of exquisite description combine in a charming evocation of a lost time and place, though the reader may well ﬁnd the eccentricities of Ondaatje’s family less fascinating than he does.
From the Indian Ocean to Concrete, Washington State , Tobias Woolf in This Boy’s Life is as bleak as Ondaatje is whimsical. The young Woolf leads a nomadic existence, following his mother as they ﬂee one unsatisfactory boyfriend after another. They end up seeing out the 505 in an electricity company camp in the Washington mountains, accompanied by a squat loser who victimises them both. What saves this memoir from tragedy is the comic contrast between Woolf’ s hooligan behaviour and mundane circumstances, and a rich interior life in which he is a spotless and noble hero.
Far from spotless are Mary Flanagan’s Bad Girls. From Amaryllis pursuing lost amours in New York to Lydia wrestling with curdling sauces and an unappreciative family, these are deft portraits of women close to the edge. Flanagan’s wit and irony slice through the pretensions of middle-class life to reveal a world of errant daughters, covetous spinsters and murderous lovers. (Frances Cornford)
I The Journey Ida Fink (Hamish Hamilton, £9.99) The power of some novels’ content is such that unexceptional storytelling cannot destroy its impact. This tale of a Jewish girl and her sister evading the Gestapo in Nazi Germany is all the stronger for being largely true. A personal account of what it meant to be Jewish and trapped in the heart of the Third Reich, it tells us without melodrama how her alias managed to survive — escaping a labour camp, dodging the authorities, sometimes
trusting traitors, suspecting others who ﬁnally helped. The factual, almost bland telling highlights the gross extent to which every social and political norm was perverted by fascism: it became normal for girls to starve, meet persecution, fear capture, disguise their J ewishness as a matter of life and death. The Journey is not a great work of ﬁction, but that hardly seems the point. As with other survivors, Fink’s intention is to bear witness. It’s a sad testament — sadder still that such testimony is no weapon against the viciousness of contemporary anti-semitism. (Cathy Boylan)
I Cock and Bull Will Self (Bloomsbury £9.99) Two stories. In the ﬁrst, Carol’s developing psychopathology leads to her
growing a penis, raping and slaughtering her boorish husband, framing his pal for the murder, becoming a man and taking to the British Rail network to assault gay Jews in lonely train carriages. A butch tale of Woman wreaking revenge on brutal masculinity, or a misogynistic fantasy creating the ultimate ball-breaker?
In Bull, a rugby—playing sports journalist develops a vagina, falls for the doctor who feeds him valium and screws his new organ, gets the sack, tangles with chicken sexers and transvestite prostitutes, copes with his ﬁrst period, ﬁnds himself pregnant and ﬂees to San Francisco for the freakish birth. Will Self toys expertly with storytelling conventions as he strains the concept of gender and sexual identity way past their limits. Brilliant, careering, snorting, farcical, riotous writing. (Cathy Boylan)
OUT OF AFRICA
' I Soho Square V: A Collection of New
Writing From Africa edited by Stvee Kromberg and James Ogude (Bloomsbury £13.99). An eclectic collection of previously unpublished stories and poetry, some rooted in oral traditions, from all parts of Africa. The editors stress the
‘collection’s incompleteness; we like
to think of it functioning to open a window rather than projecting a ﬁxed, opaque image’, and acknowledge the destabilising and creative legacies of colonialism.
Dispossession and the search for home are recurrent themes — hardly surprising in an anthology which includes many South African and two African-American voices. Much of the poetry is stunning, as are Jeff Fisher’s stark illustrations. The line between art and politics is a thin one here, for instance in the performance piece ‘Praise Poem to Nelson Mandela’, while Nadine Gordimer’s closing essay is a powerfully
E articulated vision of ‘fully engaged’ African literature anticipating the ' let century. (Pauline Rewt)
I Terry Pratchett Waterstone’s, 132 Union Street, 221 0890. Tue 24, 12.30pm. Free. The popular SF/humour writer will be signing copies of his two latest books, Witches A broad (Transworld £4.99) and Lords and Ladies (Gollancz£l4.99).
I Vivian Hamilton John Smith & Son , 57 Vincent Street, 221 7472. Wed 25, 7pm. Illustrated talk by the Assistant Keeper of Fine Art for Glasgow Museums and author of Boudin at Trouville (John Murray £30), published to coincide with the major exhibition at the Burrell Collection.
I Ranald IacColI John Smith & Son, 57 Vincent Street, 221 7472. Thurs 3 Dec, 1pm. Free. The compiler of a new collection of cartoons by the late great Bud Neill, Lobey’s the Wee Boy (Mainstream £4.99) will be signing copies of the book, probably joined by one of Neill’s characters
I Alison Prince Dillons, 174—176Argyll
Street, 248 4814. Thurs 26, 6.30pm. Free. The well known children's author and former Creative Writing Fellow at Jordanhill College will be discussing her new book The Necessary Goat and Other Essays on Formative Thinking (Taranis
’ Books £6.95), about the factors which
inﬂuence young people’s intellectual and emotional development.
I Owen Dudley Edwards Central Library, George IV Bridge, 225 5584 ext 212. Tue
, 24, noon. Free. The Irish academicwill
talk about the literature of Bloomsbury. I Privileged Shopping Evening Waterstone’s, 83 George Street, 225 3436. Tue 24, from 8pm. Admission free by ticket available from shop. A chance to browse for books as gifts in relative peace — the shop will be closed and numbers limited.
I Donald Campbell and IargarefSlIIIes Brown The Netherbow, High Street, 556 9579. Wed 25, 7.45pm. £2 (£1). Two Scottish poets reading from their recent
I Vlvlan liamllton James Thin, 53—59 South Bridge, 556 6743. Thurs 26,
7.30pm. Free. Illustrated talk by the Assistant Keeper of Fine Art for Glasgow Museums and author of Boudin at
Trouville (John Murray £30), published to
coincide with the major exhibition at the ‘ Burrell Collection. - I Terry Pratchett Waterstone’s, 13 Princes
Street, 556 3034. Thurs 26, 12.30pm. Free. The popular SF/humour writer will be signing copies of his two latest books, Witches A broad (Transworld £4.99) and Lords and Ladies (Gollancz£l4.99).
I llegh Iacharrnld Memorial Lecture School of Scottish Studies, 27 George Square, info 334 5241. Thurs 3, 7.45pm. Free. Talk on ‘Hugh MacDiarmid: The Mortal Memory’ by Alan Riach.
I Women In Publisth In Scotland 3 Christmas Party Filrnhouse, Lothian Road,
info 3321946/343 6221. Thurs 3. 8. 15pm. £3.50 (includes drink/food/rafﬂe).
.9 Yuletide festivities combine with the
3 Scottish WIP group’s ﬁrst birthday — all
BEFORE THE BREAK
Author and Scotsman Highland and
Island reporter Tom Morton, whose book Spirit Of Adventure: A Journey Beyond The Whisky Trails, has just
been published, talks to Sue Wilson about his move from a spiritual to a
‘Alierl left university In Glasgow, that would have been 1977-78, l was lust looking for a way into loumallsm; did the usual things, applied to everybody, didn't get anywhere at all, worked as a museum attendant for a while until I got a lob as a trainee loumallsf, with a building trades newspaper called Project Scotland. The only reason I got It was that I said I could type, which I couldn’t.
‘I was there two years before I felt called, as the terminology would have It, Into full-time service and became a fundamentalist gospel rock singer, a kind of religious troubadour. I’d been brought up In a very religious home, In a group called the Christian Brethren, which bears a lot of relation to the Free Church, I suppose, except It's completely democratic.
‘That lasted for about four years, then, essentially, the real world kept Intrudlng Into what I suppose had become something of a religious fantasy. But that time has obviously had a tremendous Inﬂuence on the way I’ve developed as a person now; It's something I regard really with affection rather than distaste, something not without Its benefits.
‘Afler that i got the chance to go back and work for Project Scotland again. I'd also done a little work for Melody Maker In the past, and at that point the whole early-80s Glasgow rock scene was taking off, so suddenly I was up to my neck In that.
“It got to the stage where I was sitting in this office, supposedly writing four-page advertising features on diggers, and the phone would be ringing every ten minutes and It would be CBS, or Polygram; the editorjusf went completely demented. So when I was then offered some television work, Ironically enough on a religious programme, I felt confident enough to abandon the regular salary. Alter about
three and a half years freelanclngl decided, for various reasons, to move to Shetland, where I was news editor on the local paper for three years, before being offered the Scotsman job.
‘As far as the book goes, I like books about trips, but I didn’t have the time or money to travel across the Pacific In a canoe or whatever. Also, I’d always wanted to do a tour around the whole of Scotland, and lthought whisky would offer an Interesting structure, In that you could travel to dlstlllerles all around Scotland. And whisky In Itself represents a very Interesting aspect of ‘Scottlshness’ and the Scottish character- as well as offering more potential for strange encounters, I suppose.’
The List 20 November »- 3 Deeemher I992 73