70 The List i— I 5 .J-uly .993“
BEFORE THE BREAK
flow In its tenth year, the Edinburgh
‘ Book Festival launches its 1993 programme on 2 July. Its director, Shona Munro, talks to Sue Wilson about life in one of the literary world’s hottest seats.
‘I haven’t always worked with books; I actually started with the Fringe, I had a summer job at the Fringe Office for a number of years — and if you can work in that office you can work in almost any arts office in the world. I worked on the first Book Festival, in 1983; in 1985 I was working at Assembly Theatre, came back at the end of 1986 and I’ve been here ever since. llone of It Is what I set out to do - I graduated In psychology from Aberdeen and went to Glasgow to do an educational psychology postgrad. But then things changed, and the jobs in the arts were there.
‘I went for the director’s job because the festival’s just such a good project, such a good organisation. You've really got to believe in what you're doing because it's such hard work, but you get such a lot back. The public response has always been very positive, the authors enloy coming, and the festival Is still growing, can still be better - I think that was the chaﬂenge.
‘The first job each time is putting the money Into place. Obviously you’re looking for sponsorship from quite early on, though a lot of our sponsors have stayed with us right the way through over the ten years, which is great. We start talking to authors and publishers quite early on as well - people think we’re just a two-week festival, that we start maybe the week before, but In fact we’re a full-time office, with two-and-a-blt staff.
‘Vle’ve got something like 260-280 authors coming this time, and all the sessions are one-oft events, each has to be organised as an entity in itself. Then there’s accommodation and travel, looking after people while they’re here, selling the books - we basically set up a mini-bookshop for the two weeks. Chairpeople for all the events have to be sorted out, and of course the festival site has to be built; the lob’s certainly multI-faceted.
‘ifle don’t like the word disaster, but every year there’s something to keep
- us on our toes, whether it’s tents
being blown down, toilets blocking, main drains overflowing. And we’re hoping that the lights stay on for Maya Angelou this year — we had a power failure last time.
‘The lob does involve a lot of reading; the Important thing Is to try and keep ahead with It throughout the year, because at this stage we’re working such long hours it’s almost Impossible. But I’ve got a lovely big pile of books waiting for autumn; I’m looking forward to that.’
NOT SO MUCH MAGIC REALISM
I The Infinite Plan Isabel Allende (HarperCollins. £14.99) After his father. a wandering preacher. goes mad and dies. Gregory Reeves settles in Los Angeles‘ Hispanic ghetto. He goes to law school. His marriage fails. He ﬁghts in Vietnam. comes back. makes money. is ruined. undergoes therapy and Finds Himself.
Allende has suffered in comparison to other Latin American writers. and fails to disguise her smaller gift by stufﬁng the novel‘s opening section full of
enticing aromas. exotic senoritas. tragic secrets. fringed shawls. love potions and purulent abscesses. as if key Marquez phrases had been lifted by computer. Venturing beyond the ghetto setting. the writing is even less convincing. and Gregory himself is fatally lacking in deﬁnition.
Thematically. The Inﬁnite Plan aims high and falls short, stumbling over cliches. Youth is idealistic. Innocence is lost. The American Dream is a lie. True riches are spiritual. These 380 pages demonstrate stamina but not inspiration or originality — the novel possesses all the subtlety of a picture painted by numbers. (Cathy Boylan)
STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT
I light People Barry Gifford (Flamingo £5.99). The latest offering from the this proliﬁc gentleman (of Wild at Heart fame) hardly qualiﬁes to be called a novel. being instead a large. episodic slice of exaggerated American South life. The bewildering array of characters. including such grotesque jewels as Dilys Salt the pro-abortion preacher. and her biker bodyguards the Sisters of Clytemnestra. are tenuously linked by brief meetings and passings in the darkness. with Gifford’s
characterisation flowing naturally and wittily. Anything resembling a conventional plotline runs for a few scenes at most before twisting beyond all recognition or expiring suddenly in a bus crash or shooting. There‘s humour, and an endearing reality about his characters. but we never linger on any life or place long enough to become over-attached. Expect no carefully-building story or roaring climax, but Night People is very enjoyable for what it is — a ride through cool night air and a few words with the people along the way. (Gavin Inglis)
DEATH ANO DREAMS
I The laughter of lleroes Jonathan Neale (Serpent‘s Tail £7.99) John. a young gay puppeteer. is deported from China for having AIDS; confronted with his mortality. a group of friends and ex-Iovers plan a childhood-wish trip to Disneyland for him. Determined to assert his independence. John dreams instead of a ﬁnal journey to a Himalayan Buddhist monastery. A sprinkling of surreal characters — a corrupt narcotics agent. a hunky footballer. a kindheaned drugs-runner —
and the plot's more outrageous coincidences add shades of Armistead Maupin to this (kind of) fairytale for the 90s. Don't be put off by the storyline‘s potential tackiness or the unfortunately twee cover — it‘s a funny. moving story about young Londoners trying to make sense of friendship. love and desire in the age of AIDS. The characters are acutely well-observed. and anyone who has ever had a family. friend or lover will identify with much of their — often absurd — behaviour. (Barry Flood)
I After The last Sky: Palestinian lives Edward W. Said (Vintage £7.99) A gem of a book. with Said‘s text beautifully complemented by Jean Mohr's moving photographs. The latest of several works on his own people by this renowned cultural commentator. it offers a compelling inside view of contemporary Palestinian lives. dispelling old myths and media stereotypes of Palestinians as either refugees or terrorists.
I The Volcano lover Susan Sontag (Vintage £5.99) An entertaining historical romance based on the lives of Lord Nelson. and William and Emma Hamilton - not exactly a new subject. but elevated from the run-of-the-mill by Sontag‘s eloquence and wit. boosting her credentials as thinking woman‘s thinking woman.
I Wilde West Walter Satterthwait (Fontana £5.99) A somewhat banal blend of travelogue. murder-mystery and satire which promises rather tnore than it delivers. As Oscar Wilde travels around the Mid-West on a lecture tour. someone in his entourage commits a series of murders; Wilde is suspected. and undergoes a variety of off-the-wall adventures en route to proving his innocence. An engaging premise and occasional ﬂashes of wit fail to disguise the fact that thisjust doesn’t work.
I A Journal Of The Flood Year David Ely (Phoenix £5.99) Taking the form of a diary kept by the anti-establishment hero William Fowke. this futuristic novel is set in a bleak. conformist. techno- bureaucratic world. where passion and human contact are unheard of. The narrative centres on Fowke‘s discovery of a small leak in the ‘Wall‘ (a behemoth engineering feat extending the American coastline far into the Atlantic Ocean). the authorities‘ refusal to take action and his own attempts to avert disaster. A sombre tale with some superb moments of black humour.
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I The Fourth llorseman Andrew Nikiforuk (Phoenix. £6.99) Leprosy. the Black Death. smallpox. syphilis. AIDS and more. A colourful. if sometimes apocalyptic romp through the astonishing history of germs and bacteria — a macabre and potentially depressing topic. but Nikiforuk's lively prose and mordant wit make for a highly entertaining read. (.Ioe Lampard).
I John Ie Barre John Smith & Son. 57 Vincent Street. 221 7472. Tue I3. 12.30pm. Free. Rare signing session by the doyen of spy-thriller writers. to promote his latest novel The Night Manager (Hodder & Stoughton £14.99).
I Wine Tasting Waterstone's. 45/50 Princes Square. 22I 9650. Thurs 15. 7pm. Free. Talk and taste with Peter Noble and Penny Landeau. authors of How to Win the Wine Game (Vermillion £l0.99). which promises to take the mystery out of choosing your tipple.
I Dante Jack Clegg, Voychek eochenek,
llorelle Slllltll Tron Ceilidh House. Hunter Square. info 033 33649]. Sun 4. 8pm. Free. Monthly ‘Shore Poets‘ reading. with music fromjazz singer Wendy Wetherby. I John Ie Carre Waterstone's. 83 George Street. 225 3436. Tue I3. 7.30pm. Free. Rare reading/signing and talk by the doyen of spy-thriller writers. to promote his latest novel The Night Manager (Hodder & Stoughton £14.99).