continulng our new.serles, journalist, essayist and crime novelist .loan Smith, whose tourth Loretta Lawson novel, What Men Say, is published this month by Chatto 8. Windus, talks to Sue Wilson about her favourite
? ‘The person who first occurs to me is Lucy Snowe in Charlotte Bronti’s
Vlllette. I first came across the Brontﬁs when I read Jane Eyre at
3 school, and I absolle hated it; I think I understood quite early, though I wouldn’t have been able to analyse like this at the time, that It’s a book about enormous, almost masochistic selt-eiiacement on the part of women, which can burst out in very destructive ways. It was years later that I read Vlllette, probably only about ten years ago - it was one of the sort of ‘great’ booksl hadn’t read, so I took it on holiday to Greece, and l was completely bowled over by it.
‘lt’s a sort ot version of Charlotte’s own llte - she went to Brussels and taught in a school, and tell in love with the owner, who was married. And as she always did, she describes in the novel quite a lot or the things that happened to her in real the, so it’s about lucy going on this sea-voyage, arriving in this completely strange city and getting a lob at this school, where she’s treated as the lowest oi the low.
‘What I think is so thrilling, and overwhelming, and also very irlghtenlng about Vlllette is that it seems to me to be about a woman hanging on to her identity in the most alien and alienating oi circumstances. Whatl like about Lucy Snowe herseli is that even though she is a woman without wealth, without lamily, alone in a lorelgn country, her sense of herselt battered on all sides by the contempt oi her pupils and lellow teachers - at the same time, that sense of herselt, at its very core, which is what it’s reduced to, is strong enough tor her to be able to narrate the story in her own way.
‘I also really love the ending, because there is this kind or rather conventional romance, where the only person who sees lucy’s true worth is M. Paul, the mathematics teacher, whoaskshertomarryhlm, butthenhe has to go to America for several years, and gives her the money tor her to set
LANGUAGE OF lOVE
I Another Good loving Blues Arthur Flowers (Seeker & Warburg £8.99) This book is pure joy. The language of Deep South black America which ﬂows as rhythmically as the blues, as strong and smooth as the muddy Mississippi itself, has to be the sexiest tongue ever to have caressed the soul of a woman. For this is a lovesong. Roaming. goodtime bluesman Luke Bodeen meets his heart's own, heaven made match in spirited hoodoo woman Melvira Dupree — but he doesn‘t know
it till she’s up and left him for his meandering ways. From then on, he and she search the streets and mud ﬂats of Tennessee for their true selves and the meaning of it all. They watch the tide of emigration from the cotton ﬁelds to the cities, see the hoodoo lore, inherited from Africa den'ded where once it was revered. He plays honky- tonk in juke afterjuke and always winds up singing Melvira. Turning her back on love, she is going nowhere fast. With all its cultural richness — and speciﬁcity — this isjust about as universal a tale as you're going to get. and as tender, wise and warm a telling.
7 (Catherine Fellows)
WHEN I WAS A GIRL . . .
I Iluring Mother’s Absence Michele 5 Roberts (Virago £9.99) This collection of short stories comes from the Booker- f shortlisted author of Daughters of the House and, like that novel, draws
heavily upon the summers of Roberts‘
youth, spent with her well-to-do grandparents in Normandy. The ﬁnal story, ‘Une Glossaire’, reveals Roberts' nostalgia at its most explicit, and her remarkable talent for observing domestic details at its strongest. It is literally a list of beloved memories evoked by French words like bonnetiere and moissmz, or, as she puts it, ﬂotsam and jetsam snatched from the obliterating tide of memory. Other stories present the agony of a possessive mother whose daughter has run from home, the solace a motherless child ﬁnds in a deserted house, a nun's unorthodox method of pleasing her
bishop. the changing attitude of a 3 young girl to the prostitute who brought
her up. There is a great deal of interest here, but Roberts’ richly imaginative
writing works considerably better when
allowed to accumulate into a full—scale novel, with the more extensive structure and fully-developed ideas that form entails. (Catherine Fellows)
ANATOMY OF JAZZ
I Jazz John Fordham (Dorling Kindersley, £16.99) The Guardian jazz ; critic‘s new reference book enters the market at the sumptuously illustrated, coffee~table end of the spectrum. but combines that visual appeal with a i cogent, authoritatively written text. The book splits into ﬁve sections, three of which cover the history of the music (in synoptic but informative fashion),
proﬁles of twenty of its major exponents. and a run-down of classic recordings. which may be designed to
5 make us envy Fordham‘s record
7 collection. They are complemented by two lucid but more technical sections
on the instrumental and musical
1 techniques ofjazz. and these make it a i worthwhile investment even ifyou already have a history on the shelf.
3 (Kenny Mathieson)
I Vllllle llogg Robin Jenkins (Polygon £7.95) In many ways this universal and mesmeric story is reminiscent of Jenkins‘ earlier novel The Cone Gatherers (and surely destined to follow its predecessor's success) in the partnership of two deceptively weak and strong characters who ﬁnd their given roles reversed in an emotional crisis. Here, our hero is Glasgow pensioner Willie Hogg who, with his so-called simple wife Maggie, travels to a Navajo reservation to visit Maggie‘s dying missionary sister, Elspeth. Once in America Willie the protector and aetheist, ﬁnds himself
. I ’
I Jesus A. N. Wilson (Flamingo £6.99) in one of those rare books that will force a large proportion of its readers to re-assess their deepest beliefs, Wilson makes a bold distinction between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of faith, then proceeds to ease the two apart. Despite his admission of the uncertainty involved, Christians will ﬁnd the sheer scope of the author's detached perspective startling.
I New Worlds 3 various authors (Victor Gollancz £6.99) This anthology continues to champion quality science ﬁction, and kicks off with a damning, yet reasoned attack on the state of publishing today. The stories are by a mix of new and established names, and some hit hard indeed. such as Graham Joyce's ‘Gap- sickness', particularly its sticky end. Also included is Paul J. McAuley's cybertn'p novella ‘Children of the Revolution‘. A' decent purchase.
I A View From The Diners’ Club Gore Vidal (Abacus £6.99) in 47 years, Gore Vidal has published twenty novels and a great wealth of other writings. This collection of essays, l987—l99l, is part of a sizeable reissue of back catalogue. He backs proﬁles of people in the arts with those of political ﬁgures, all sketched with his characteristic ironic wit.
I llothlng Personal Donald McRae (Hodder & Stoughton £5.99) An intensively researched album of interviews with London prostitutes and their clients. McRae has moved through both the boudoirs of exclusive mistresses and the sleaziest Soho peepshows. The humanity of his subjects rings true throughout, and his self-deprecating sense of humour is a perfect answer to some of his more disturbing discoveries. Dark, but fascinating.
lip her own school. So she’s spiritually vunerable under Arizona's I [Inﬂow Fete Dexter (Flamingo supposedly waiting tor the moment he vast empty sky, while scarcely £5.99) A smashing western by the author returns and sweeps her oft her feet, recognising his blossoming wife as she of Paris Trout, What sets this apart from . M the ending ltselt is very enigmatic discovers herself. the 50 cent bargain-bin posse is the way - she doesn’t actually tell you what’s Jenkins is a master storyteller, tuning Dexter moulds his characters — mostly happened, hilt implies he’s been into and illuminating the ﬁnest of inierprétatiQNS 0f real-life ﬁgures 5°C“ as shipwrecked and died, and you can emotions, be they the loneliness of an w”?! 3‘" H‘CkOk and Gummy Jane' 80" ot see that that’s what she M, old man, the acceptance of death or the The" depih wings the 5‘33 8" eftﬁ'wm she’s quite hull] running her M joy in the realisation of love after 50 I imbued with a profundity that will recrﬂzéimyaavcﬁis pros; school, and the conventional romantic years. Tender without succumbing to enhance any reader's pleasure. (Ann and you have a dangerous book to be Lending would have messed It all up.’ sentimentality, this beautiful book is Donald) around. (Gavin lnglis)
70 The List 8—21 October l993