I The Battle For Itooru Service: Journeys to III the Safe Places Mark Lawson (Picador £5.99) The most 'actively chalienged' town in New Zealand or the artificial Mediterranean climate of a pleasure-dome in deepest Norfolk may not be every independent traveller's ideal destination, but Lawson’s consistently witty accounts of his misadventures in such places, along with anecdotes like that about the battle to win the armrest from your neighbour on a 747, will make even the most trail-wise backpacker laugh repeatedly out loud.

I LA. Lore Stephen Brook (Picador £5.99) Though this account ranges from inner-city gang warfare to redundant Dallas stars and talk of orthodontist bills in the heights of Beverley Hills. Brook highlights the fact that there are still pockets of this contradictory metropolis where ordinary, interesting people live with hope and expectation, and where everyday life is alive and well.

I Cuba: A Journey Jacobo Trmerman (Picador £4.99) A highly personal account of the island, its people and its political system, as viewed by the author when he returned from exile in 1987, highlighting the effects of the revolution and its aftermath. Timerman pulls no punches in his descriptions of Cuba’s decay and stagnation in recent years, yet his insider's insight leaves him hopeful that its many exiles will, eventually, be allowed to return and help to rebuild their country.

I Maximum City: The Biography of iiew York Michael Pye (Picador £6.99) Drawing on a wide variety of sources, Pye illustrates the many parallels between historic and contemporary characters and events in the Big Apple, analysing how the city continues to earn its reputation as a place of danger, glamour, poverty. extravagance and hope; the book is not unlike a real-life Tales of the Citv, in which the collisions between these extremes are thoughtfully explored.

I Nomad Mary Anne Fitzgerald (Picador £5.99) To be thrown out of your home. expelled from the country where you have lived for over twenty years and still retain a sense of humour is quite a feat, but it’s one Fitzgerald has pulled off. Her account of her life and travels through Africa, including her deportation from Kenya. reveal the determination and courage of a woman possessed of a unique love for and understanding of the continent and its people. (John Higgins)


I Spidertowu Abraham Rodriguez (Flamingo £6.99) At sixteen-and-a-half Miguel is a drug runner, squelching round the Bronx in his chen'y-red '68 Chevy impala, delivering bundles of crack to street dealers and pulling more cash in a month than his parents did in a year. Bright but over-trusting, he wants to leave the streets to go straight with his new and innocent girlfriend, but is too entangled in the

posse’s web to make the break.

Bleak and blatantly distressing though it is, Spidertown is more than just another tale of a kid fucking up on crack. Rodriguez has reached deep into the heart of the New York Latino community and pulled out a bitter tale of betrayal, painted in the gaudy hues of head-nipping spiiffs,.atavistic sex and the pumping beat-box. The book’s compulsive readability fails away however, when the demands of a moralistic ending impinge on its searing realism with all the vitality of a daytime soap. (Thom Dibdin)


I The Time: Night Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (Virago £12.99) Petrushevskaya had to wait until she was approaching 50 to see her work published, and this short novel figures both as product of cold-war Russian repression and defiant testament in spite of it. Punctuated by nighttime darkness, it is an intense, uncompromising exposition of familial relationships, structured around the recollections and emotional epiphanies of beleaguered writer Anna Andrianova, and could easily be

subtitled ‘extended families and how to survive them’. Saddled with a senile mother, abandoned grandchild and abusive children. Anna reads her daughter’s diary account of her brutal sexual initiation. discovers a cache of rags stained with her mother‘s coughed-up blood. and generally leaves no stone of farniiy conflict unturned. Yet Petrushevskaya's tone of ironic detachment succeeds in lending the book a palatable edge beyond the omnipresent hunger, squalor and strife. A survivor’s bible indeed. (Bethan



I The Touch Of Innocents Michael Dobbs (Harper Collins £9.99) Dobbs’s name is exceptionally hard currency at the moment, following the media furore over To Play The King. Unfortunately, readers beguiled by Dobbs's controversial cachet are in for a big disappointment with this latest political potboiler.

'~.. . 7 I

' With his two previous books, Dobbs‘s undeniable ability to reflect and predict actual events (Thatcher’s fail, the royal shenanigans) made for excellent TV, thanks largely to Andrew Davies's delightfully malevolent adaptations. The Touch OfInnocents has no such saving graces, and Dobbs’s plodding prose-style is cruelly exposed. The plot concerns a feminist-but-sexy-with-it American reporter whose baby

, disappears after a car accident. the

, prime suspect the ruthless-but-

vulnerabie Defence Secretary’s junkie

daughter. By-numbers characterisation prevails throughout particularly laughable is a lilting, romantic lrishrnan, all windswept hair and poetic yeaming. Any eiernent of mystery is swiftly dispatched. and the novel closes with a dogged dash towards another of

, Dobbs’s damp-squib endings. Probably

beyond even Davies‘s salvage skills.

(Tom Lappin)


I VIII Smith Young Writers’ Competition Details from Lois Beeson or Lucy Rogers, WH Smith Group PLC, Strand House, 7 Holein Place, London, SWIW 8NR. 071 824 5456/5463, or pick up a leaflet at bookshops. Annual open competition for poems, stories, articles or plays by writers aged sixteen and under; closing date Feb 26. There are three age categories, and prize money totalling around £7000 will be awarded, with winning entries published in a book next year.

I Environmental Book Group Mon 17, 7.30pm. 8 Hamilton Park Avenue, 248 6864. Free. Discussion of Derek Wall’s Getting There: Steps to a Green Society. I Writing Therapy Wed 19, 7.45pm, then weekly until 27 April. Phone Alistair Paterson on 334 1652 for details and booking. £3 (£2) per session. Also day workshops on the last Saturday of each month, starting Sat 29, £10 (£7.50).

I Katie itoiphe Sat 22, 2pm. Boyd Orr Building, Glasgow University, info 221 3677. The young American author of The

Morning After: Sex, Fear and Feminism (Hamish Hamilton £7.99), a controversial new look at contemporary sexual politics, will be speaking at this Living Marxism forum.

I laoroi Wolf Tue 25, 7pm. Waterstone's, 45—50 Pn'nces Square, 221 9650. Free. Talk and discussion with the hotshot young American feminist. based on her new book Fire With Fire (Chatto & Windus £11.99).

I Excerpts From The Turn of the Screw Thurs 27, 7—8pm. Waterstone's, 132 Union Street, 221 0890. Free. Scottish Opera offer a taster of their major forthcoming production of Britten’s masterpiece, to be staged at the Tramway in February.

I Paisley Writers’ Festival: It: lochbead Thurs 27, 7.30pm. Paisley Arts Centre. New Street, Paisley, 887 1010. £3 (£1.50). The ever-popular Glaswegian poet kicks off a three-day literary jamboree, which will also feature irvine Welsh, Andrew Grieg, poets Eizabeth Burns, Genie Fellows and Tom Pow, and a visit from three New Zealand writers including Booker-Prize winner Keri Hulme. More details next issue, or contact the venue, or Gem’e Fellows on 041 889 2360.



I liaomi Wolf Mon 24. 7pm. Waterstone's, 128 Princes Street. 226 2666. Free. Talk and discussion with the hotshot young American feminist, based on her new book Fire With Fire (Chatto & Windus £1 1.99).

I Polygon launch Tue 25, 7.30pm. Waterstone‘s, 83 George Street, 225 3436. £1.50. A Bum's Night celebration to mark the publication of Dream State: The New Scottish Poets (Polygon £9.95), with readings from several of the contributors; ticket price includes a pie and a pint.

I The Best Bard’s flight in Town Tue 25. 7.30pm. Fat Sam’s. 56—58 Fountainbridge. 228 3111. £19.50 (reservations essential). A celebration in ’food and wine. whisky, word and song' (including a five-course dinner) of Burns’ 235th birthday.

I Travel Evening Thurs 27, 7pm. Waterstone's, 13 Princes Street, 556 3034. Free. Travellers' tales from Cosmopolitan agony aunt irma Kurtz, author of The Great Americn Bus Ride (Fourth Estate £6.99), Mark Lawson, author of The Battle for Room Service (Picador £6.99), Mick Brown, author of American Heartbeat (Penguin £7.99) and Josie Bernard, author of The Virago Women ’3 Travel Guide to New York (Virago £7.99).

Award-winning playwright Jocelyn Ferguson, whose first novel, Iiope Tricks, is published by Virago this month, tells Sue Wilson about the enigmatic allure of her favourite fictional character.

‘I suppose the character I’ve found most interesting in fiction is Isabel Archer from Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady. 1 like the fact that she is such a complex character, her motivation is fascinating, why she behaves the way she does; the choices she makes are so puzzling to the reader, I think, she’s very enigmatic.

‘My husband for a long time had said to me, look, you’ve got to read this book, and I can’t hear people telling me that, it always puts me off the idea of going anywhere near something, so I resisted the book for a long time, until about 1983, I think, and I’ve subsequently read it again about five times. I think it’s an absolutely astonishing book, I see more in it each time, and I’m not, on the whole, a great fan of Henry James, some of his stuff I just can’t read - his style can be very stilted, and his sentence- structure can be rather tortuous, but I do think Portrait is breathtaking. And especially since it’s a man writing about this women - you just have to compare Isabel with someone like Hardy’s Tess; there aren’t many male writers of that period who offer such extraordinarily complicated, and whole, and rounded female characters.

‘Essentially, the complicated thing about Isabel is that she has to choose between two men. One is set up by Janos, in a sense, as a very upstanding figure - he’s actually called Goodwood, and he’s a very good character, a very good man. And in fact there’s another character, an English lord, who is also the epitomy of someone who would make a good husband. Yet she chooses to marry a man who is foreign, he’s ttalian, and who has something very dark and rather corrupt about him - it’s very puzzling, people stil argue about why she makes this decision. But I think the fact that the book leaves you with this enigma, that she is so complicated, makes Portrait of a Lady the most extraordinary book. She’s a j very modern women, I think, certainly 2

the choices she makes are rather shocking; she dumbfounds the reader, even the modern reader - I think she

probably must have dumbfounded

James as well, you get the feeling she’s someone who really took on a g life of her own.’ J

The List 14—27 January 1994 67