Cosmopolitan agony aunt Inna Kurtz, who has branched out into travel writing with her new book The Great American Bus tilde (Fourth Estate), in which she travels across the [IS in search oi her roots, tells Sue Wilson about the iniluence of a favourite fictional character on her younger self.
‘l’ve picked one who is very American, and when I say she’s my favourite, I really mean she was my favourite. like all American girls, when l was about nine or ten years old, I read little Women, and with the sisters in the book, you could be judged by who was your favourite. I, of course, loved Jo, and before I even bothered becoming friends with another girl, I would ask which one was her favourite, and if it wasn’t Jo, I knew we wouldn’t have much in common. We had a house in the country, and there was a treehouse in the garden, and I actually remember sitting up there reading little Women, which was just the sort oi thing Jo would do - she had an attic and I had a treehouse.
‘It wasn’t only because Jo was a tomboy, but also because she wanted to be a writer - she scribbled away in the attic and it was all very romantic and silly, but the others - Meg was a homemaker, Beth was an angel, Amy was a flirt; if you were going to be, as women were In those days, stereotyped, it was bloody well going to be as the tomboy.
‘I wouldn’t say she was a heroine, exactly; at that age when you read you become one oi the characters, and she was the one I became, because she was the only one who was feasible In my life. So in a way I suppose it was important, not that I chose her and my life lollowed, but that she helped me find myself; through her I knew the kind of girl I was and the kind of girl I wasn’t; I never envied the one who got the handsome young neighbour in the end, that wasn’t up my street at all.
‘And I think anybody who chooses Jo grows up to have fondness for certain other characters in literature, too - you can’t despise Becky Sharp, you probably have a soft place In your heart for lady Macbeth; the bad girls of literature tend to be the ones that I side with, and it all started with Jo. I felt very close to her; i can’t say that I loved the whole book, and I felt she let the side down when she married the Barman professor at the and, I’d have liked her to have gone on being a lorthrlght, curious, bold single woman, but literature of that period didn’t allow for that sort of thing.’
I The Sense of Things Alison Dye (Heinemann £9.99) Alison Dye’s ﬁrst novel recounts the subliminally powerful story of Joan Maria Pardee, a woman so emotionally damaged that
she is generally regarded by the other inhabitants of her small New Jersey home as mentally ill. Her entirely linear thinking gives her view of the world an unexpected slant, as if through the glass of a bell jar, a la Plath. Where Plath is dark. however, Pardee’s observations are often as amusing as they are insightful. thanks to her disregard for the meaning intended by others. expressed through Dye’s crafting of her unselfeonscious voice.
As Joan gradually achieves a degree of social integration. her present life juxtaposes with the tragic events of her past in a convoluted unfolding which is totally engaging. On the surface simply an oddball character with less charisma than yesterday‘s failed chat-show host, Joan may not be to everyone’s taste. but The Sense of Things is more than worthwhile ifyou're willing to invest yourself. (Helen Waddell)
I My Parents Herve Guilbert (Serpent’s Tail £8.99) Herve Guilbert, whose book To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life examined the effect of AIDS on love and friendship, died of it in 1991. In My Parents, ﬁrst published in 1986 but only now translated into English, he pieces together autobiographical and ﬁctional anecdotes and observations to build up a picture of his semi-incestuous, love- hate relationship with his mother and father. His harsh judgement of them —
for their rejection then grudging acceptance of his homosexuality, for their miserliness — is balanced by the honest, unﬂattering portrait he paints of himself. as a loveless son disgusted by his parents‘ increasingly obvious mortality. To confound matters further. his examination of their behaviour and his own feelings is shot through with ,understanding. affection and grief — grief not only for their imminent deaths but also for their view of him as ‘the sterile son . . . short-circuited the current of life . . . gave nothing in return.‘ (Cathy Boylan)
I The Sorrow of War Bao Ninh (Seeker & Warburg £8.99) Almost twenty years after the end of the Vietnam war, the ﬁrst novel to come from the ‘victors‘ of the North is published in Britain, only as communism loses inﬂuence in Hanoi. It contains the ﬁrst admission in print that North Vietnamese soldiers ever suffered post-war trauma, and can boast the rare honour of being underrated by its publicity.
The distinction between author and central character is blurred completely. as is the novel’s structure, as Ninh‘s protagonist (one of only ten survivors from a SOC-strong Hanoi troop company; six of the others have already taken their own lives) pours out memories and after-shocks too vivid to be anything but authentic.
Yet this is neither a despair-inducing tale of horror, nor an account of human nature’s triumph over adversity. Rather, it is an accumulation of poignant. vividly rendered happenings. haunted by the ghosts of war and etched by the touch of napalm, adding up to something far greater — and impossible to summarise. A novel of international signiﬁcance: literate. highly readable. 'and immensely powerful. (Gavin Inglis)
They’re all the rage, reprints of so called ‘classics’ - many which no-one ever knew as such. But Edinburgh’s BSW Publishing have managed to pull a line bundle of titles out of the archives for a new lease of - very attractively packaged - paperback life.
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I The Shipbuilders George Blake (B&w £6.99) As the listramadimi is launched from the Pagan shipyard on the Clyde. Leslie Pagan knows that there are no more orders on the books. He is caught. a paternalistic owner. between loyalty to his workers — and through them to his craft ~ and to his class. This tightly observed story of Glasgow during the 30s sets the decline of an industry against the pubs. football and grim reality of the great city. I The Breadmakers Saga Margaret Thomson Davis (B&W £7.99) Trilogy starring a baker‘s fatnin and their community at Clydend which takes them through the depression and the Second World War. ()ver-written but none-the-less compelling. this is character-driven soap territory. peopled by proud Glaswegian women who might not know where the next crust is coming from. but are sure that they will get it.
I My Scottish Youth Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart (B&W £7.99) ()nce you get around the tnini-epistles that pepper this autobiography. it is a highly readable and evocative memoir of middle-class life in Scotland at the turn of the century. Were Lockhart not able to tell stories against himselfso well. this might be twee. but instead it is an infectiously rose-tinted reflection of a golden age.
I iluntingtower John Buchan (B&W £4.99) The ﬁrst of three Buchan yarns starring retired greengrocer Dickson McGunn and the ‘Gorbals [)ie-Hards' set in 39-Steps country. The baddies this time l are Bolsheviks and the woman in jeopardy i a princess trapped in a mysterious house ' which McGunn stumbles across on a walking holiday through Ayrshire. Although reflecting the prejudices of its . age. this is indeed ‘rattling'. (Thom Dibdin)
I Arvon Writing Courses 1994 The new Arvon Foundation brochure, detailing all the courses taking place at their three centres (in lnvemess-shire. Yorkshire and Devon) from April to November this year. has just been published; to obtain a copy contact Sophia Fraser. Moniack Mhor, Teavaran, Kiltarlity. Beauly. lnvemesshire. 1V4 7HT. 0463 74675.
I Paisley Writers Festival: iiard Knocks, Sweet Ilrearns - Irvine Welsh and Andrew Grieg Fri 28, 7.30pm. Paisley Arts Centre. New Street. 887 1010. Free. Readings from two new, strikingly different voices in contemporary Scottish ﬁction, authors respectively of the ﬁrst novels TrainSpottin and Electric Brae.
I Paisley riters Festival: Blood, Earth and Intimate Words Sat 29, 2pm. Paisley Arts Centre, New Street, 887 1010. Free. Poets Elizabeth Burns and Gerrie Fellows and poet/travel writer Tom Pow read from and talk about their work.
Paisley Writers Festival: flew lealand Writers on Tour - Keri ilulme, Bill Manhire and olnah llawken Sat 29. 7.30pm. Paisley Arts Centre, New Street. 887 1010. Free. Readings and discussion with three leading literary lights from Kiwi country — Hulme is author of the Booker Prize-winning The Bone People, Manhire is a poet and ﬁction writer whose new short-story collection. South Paciﬁc (Carcanet £14.95) has just been published. while Hawken’s latest poetry collection Small Stories of Devotion (Littlewood Arc £6.95) is published this month.
I Dream State: llew Scottish Poetry Wed 2, 7pm. Waterstone’s. 132 Union Street. 221 0890. Free. Readings from Stuart Paterson, Graham Fulton, Anne Frater, David Kinloch and Donny O’Rourke, all contributors to Dream State: The New Scottish Poets (Polygon £9.95).
I Strong language - lynne Bryat, Patricia Ace, Alison llerrnack and Cal King Thurs 10, 7.30pm. CCA. 350 Sauchiehall Street. 332 7521. £1.50 (£1). Readings by four adventurous new Scots and Scots-based writers. organised in
collaboration with Harpies and Quines magazine as part of the CCA‘s ‘Bad Girls' season.
I Shore Poets: Tom Pow, Joy Pitman and Brian Johnstone Sun 30. 8pm. Tron Ceilidh House. Hunter Square. info 033 336491. Free. Monthly reading. this time featuring three Scottish poets, plus traditional music from Norman Chalmers. Tim O'Leary and Rebecca Knorr.
I Women In Publishing: The Book Trust Thurs 3, 7.30pm. Filmhouse. Lothian Road. info Alison Jones. 343 2050/557 4571. Free. All welcome. Lindsey Fraser, executive director of the Book Trust Scotland. will talk about the various aspects of the Trust’s work.
I liobert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert Thurs 10. 7pm. Waterstone’s, I3 Princes Street. 556 3034. Free. Talk with slide and video illustrations by the authors of The Orion Mystery (Heinernann £16.99). which attempts to crack the riddle of the pyramids; a BBC documentary about their work will be screened to coincide with publication.
76 The List 28 January-10 February 1994