BOOKS REVIEW '
Journalist and writer Philip llenscher, whose iirst novel Other lulus is published by llamlsh ilarnilton this month, tents to Sue Wilson about ilctional iavorites.
‘Favourite characters are often surprising; I tend to think iirst about the main characters in iavourite books, but there are lots oi wonderiul books iull oi characters you wouldn’t really like, or want to know -I can’t Imagine having a conversation with Anna Karenina, or Dorothea irorn Mlddlemarch - and often very lovable characters come up in not particularly good books: llancy Mitiord’s love in a Cold Climate is lull of characters that you can imagine talking to, you wonder about what happened to them after the end of the book.
‘But when a favourite character comes up in a great book, it is very enloyable, and I think mine is the hero of l’homas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, llans Kastorb. It’s an odd choice, in a way, because it’s not the sort oi novel you homily think oi as having great characters, or engaging characters, rather than great ideas, serious ideas - it is iull oi great ideas and it is terribly serious, but it does have wonderiul characters in it.
‘lt’s a very intellecmal book, but llans is quite a stupid hero. It’s the story oi how he visits his sick intellectual cousin Joachim in a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps, before the First World War. Most oi the inmates are pretty cosmopolitan and sophisticated — Joachim is a brilliant military strategist - and a lot oi the book is taken up with their discussions oi history and society; it’s not iull oi action, but ior some reason, aiter a while, it’s very diiilcult to put down. But the main reason I love it so much is the character oi llans; Mann tells us he’s unassuming, with a kind oi simplicity that lets him just sit and listen to all these arguments, and ask simple questions. At the beginning he seems pretty silly, and young, and he’s certainly a bit oi a bore - often he’s exactly like a fairly boring but quite likeable lriend whose stories you all know.
‘But he’s a very good man, and aiter a while, because oi the experiences he liuds himseli going through - he has to comfort loachim’s mother as she watches her son die, he ialls in love with another oi the inmates, he lost has the chance to sit up on the mountain and think deeply in his own way; all these experiences make him in a way quite noble. At the beginning oi the book, there’s something very straightforward, very ordinary about him, but by the end, his simplicity is almost like that oi a saint.’
TRICKS ANO TREATS
I Betrayals Charles Palliser (Jonathan Cape £14.99) This complex novel deﬁes categorisation, but if it were to be grouped alongside anything, it might be Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter's Night (1 Traveller. . .. Like Calvino, Palliser constructs his effects from a cumulative series of fragments — a newspaper obituary, an exchange between an aspiring romantic novelist and her editor, pastiches of Kipling and Conrad, the whodunnit, the diary. These are linked by recurring motifs.
by cross-references, and by the perpetual process of retrospective revision in which the reader is required to engage.
Superﬁcially, Betrayals revolves around a couple of rival Glasgow University academics with titanic egos, weaving elaborate plots to bring out one another’s downfall. But the novel is not only a tale of duplicity, but an exploration of the process of reading itself, through a highly challenging intellectual game and ingenious feats of verbal dexterity: the comparison with Calvino is well deserved. (Catherine Fellows)
All. PASSION TNWARTEO
I Charlotte Bronte: A Passionate lite Lyndall Gordon (Chatto & Windus £17.99) Writing as Currer Bell, Charlotte Bronte was accused of coarseness by 19th century critics for exploring in her ﬁction the question of women’s true emotional character, focusing on the tension between Victorian social pressures on women to be demure and their frequently raging, if hidden. passions - although. given the time in which she wrote, their all- important sexuality could only be hinted at. Bronte experienced plenty of
POWER AND GLORY?
I The Myth Ci Male Power Warren Farrell (Fourth Estate £6.99) Feminism has liberated women, allowing them to identify and challenge their victimisation. Not so for men, however, according to Farrell’s powerful thesis, which posits that men are just as subjugated by masculine stereotypes as women ever were by the feminine variety.
There’s nothing new in men crying foul, but at last Farrell has risen above the whimperings of Robert Biy and his ilk to make a coherent argument: not
(unrequited) passion herself, but was eventually forced to settle for the material support and companionship offered by an uninspiring maniage, aware that it would end her career: a woman whose writing fervently challenged the Victorian submission of women saw no option but to sacriﬁce the work she loved and marry a man she didn’t. She died during pregnancy within a year. Gordon‘s biography succeeds in throwing light on the development of Bronte’s ﬁction but her style can be dry. and — irony of ironies - she’s a bit coy about Charlotte’s keen interest in sex. (Cathy Boylan)
that women have gone too far, but that men have been left behind in the progress towards gender liberation. Men, argues Farrell, prostitute their lives for a society which not only alienates them from their feelings but demands their lives in times of conflict. Such sentiments are likely to be dismissed out of hand by female feminists, oblivious to the ties which bind their male counterparts, and as liberal tosh by the male-power lobby. Which is a shame, as with Farrell’s impeccable feminist credentials, this takes the gender debate forward towards the millenium. (Thom Dibdin)
I ‘l’iepln Eros Tom Pickard (Bloodaxe £7.95) The pieces in this collection swing
. from colloquial coarseness. through
unsparing political polemic to devoted tenderness. with countless variations in tone between these two extremes. ‘Gang Shag’ recalls The Accused in its intensity. while ‘To My Unborn Child', though typically straightforward in its vocabulary. expresses the author‘s sense of wonderment. Overall. the impact is stirring. effective and vigorously masculine.
I That Cid-Time Religion Peter Didsbury (Bloodaxe £6.95) The fantastical air of Didsbury‘s work recalls the atmosphere of children’s stories; its dry wit is softened by its affectionate. yet unsentimental storytelling context which is, however, incisive rather than sentimental. Taking sly digs at perceived reality in poems like ‘The Devil on Holiday’, Didsbury creates incisive modem-day fairytales. The collection’s focus is on nothing other than the workings of the poet's mind. which he knows we need to hear about from time to time; a religion in itself.
I Blackthorn Gillian Allnutt (Bloodaxe £6.95) The title suggests sparseness. sterility, perhaps loss: instead we ﬁnd a powerful sense of self. concentrated in few words, which nevertheless speaks loudly. The strength of Allnutt’s voice allows the ‘big yellow bus‘ in ‘After the Blaydon Races’ a certain elegance — like her other subjects, it is elevated by the respect and authority she grants.
I Small Stories oi Devotion Dinah Hawken (Arc Publications £6.95) Hawken’s aim of recording ‘a kind of diary’ is only the conscious part of her effort, for here we also ﬁnd a kind of scrapbook. a photograph album, a catalogue of dreams, in which the unconscious is on prominent display. Using the 4000-year-old stories of lnnana. Queen of Heaven and Earth. she offers challenging assertions about God. philosophy and female sexuality, presenting her convictions in scholarly style, while reclaiming religion in an undivided (unhypocritical) housing of sexuality and spirituality. Hurrah. The Vatican wouldn‘t like it. (Helen Waddell)
I Creative Writing Workshops with lliiys nose and Brian McCabe 26 June—2 July/2—9 July. Lunga House, Ardfem, Argyll, details Bella Green, 08525 526. £276 including tuition and full board. Two courses on ‘The Whole Story’. focusing in detail on the art of the short story. and ‘The First Book’ exploring how to turn early beginnings into publishable manuscripts. if interested. please contact the above number by the end of March. as numbers must be conﬁrmed.
I Women Writing: A Scottish-Irish Ceilidh oi Ideas Sat 12, 2pm—late. Arches Theatre. Midland Street. 221 9736. £3. or £8 including the evening performance of Men - An Irish Musical (see Theatre for details). Talks, performance. readings, discussion and music, with writers and other contributors including Janice Galloway. Anne Downey, Ailbhe Smyth and Belinda Loftus — full details/programme from the box ofﬁce.
I Variant eeneiit lo 2 Sun 13, 8pm. Fixx 11. Miller Street. info 221 7775. £3. Fundraiser for the arts magazine currently threatened by withdrawal of its Scottish Arts Council grant. featuring Stewart llome, author of such ‘splatter punk‘ dainties as No Pity, plus hardcore thrash from the much-loved Archbishop Kebab. I Alan Spence and Brian Whittinglram Mon 21. 7.30pm. Castlemiik Library. 100 Castlemilk Drive. 634 2066. Free. Castlemilk Writer's Group hosts and evening of readings and discussion from
the leading Scottish author of such books as Its Colours They Are Fine and The Magic Flute, and from a rising star of the Glasgow poetry scene.
I Clasgow Environmental Book Group Mon 21, 7.30pm. 8 Hamilton Park Avenue, info 248 6864. Free. Discussion of Wealth Beyond Measure: An Atlas of the New Economics by Paul Ekins, Mayer Hillman and Robert Hutchinson.
I la Plus Belles Pages de Maupassant Thurs 24, 6pm. lnstitut Francais D’Ecosse, 7 Bowmont Gardens, 357 3632. An evening of readings from and discussion of the author’s work, part of the lnstitut’s ‘Maupassant Today’ season of ﬁlms and displays, commemorating the centenary of Maupassant’s death last year.
I Poetry Workshop Tue 15, 6.30pm. Central Library. George IV Bridge, 225 5584. Free. Brainstomring session for -would-be versiﬁers with poet and short- story writer Janet Paisle .
I Pat Cadigau and PauiJ. McAuley Wed 16, 7pm. James Thin. 53—59 South Bridge, 556 6743. Free. Two award- winning leading lights of the cyberpunk and hard SF genres respectively, reading from their latest work — Cadigan’s Fools (HarperCollins £4.99) and McAuley’s Red Dust and Pasquale Zr Angel (Both Gollancz £4.99 & £15.99).
I Poetry at the Ietberbow: ll.A. Fauthorpe Wed 16. 7.45pm. The Netherbow. High Street, 556 9579/2647. £3 (£2). ‘A poet of real importance . . . a writer who can edify and entertain’ according to the Scotsman, reading from
her recent ﬁfth collection Neck Verse. I Fionn MacColla Evening Thurs 17, 7pm. James Thin, 53-59 South Bridge, '556 6743. Free. Extracts from the late Scots author’s previously unpublished novel Move Up John (Canongate £8.99) performed by actor Michael Elder. plus discussion with the new volume's editor. John Herdman.
I Guardian/Penguin Festival oi Fiction Sat 19, 1.30—6pm. Assembly Rooms. George Street; tickets and info from
"Waterstone‘s. 83 George Street. 225 3436.
£3.50. An afternoon of talks and discussions with authors, including Maeve Haran. Carol Clewlow and Guy Bellamy on ‘Scenes from the Sex Wars’. Shena Mackay, Esther Freud, Sean French and Elspeth Barker on ‘the richness and diversity of contemporary Scottish writing’, Pat Barker, Will Self and Patrick McGrath on the ‘phantasmagorical illusion’, plus solo spots from John Mortimer and PD. James. Lots of signing sessions, too.
I Frank McClyn Mon 21, 6.30pm. James Thin, 57 George Street. 225 4495. Free. Reading and discussion with the author of a new biography of Robert Louis Stevenson (Pimlico £10).
I Minerva Evening Thurs 24, 7pm. Waterstone’s, 13 Princes Street. 556 3034. Free. Showcasing authors from the quality paperback imprint, including Janice Galloway. whose new novel Foreign Parts is published by next month, Candle McWilllanr , who has one in the pipeline for June. plus Philip Kerr and Jane Harris. all introduced by Scotland on Sunday literary editor Alan Taylor.
TO The List 1 1—24 March 1994