To mark her last issue in charge of the section, departing Books Editor Sue Wilson takes a taste of her own medicine and talks about her favourite fictional character.
As I wandered around my bedroom and living room peering at all the titles lined up on my bookshelves, considering and rejecting one after the other - no, i liked her/him but they’re not really a favourite, no that’s a favourite book, not a favourite character — l was imagining the various authors I’ve interviewed for this column doing the same. It’s quite a tough question: so many books, so many people with whom - if the writing was good - l’d lived and breathed, through whose eyes and mind and emotions I’d seen and thought and felt for the duration of the novel or short story, and - if the writing was very good - often for some time afterwards; you know how, if you’ve been completely sucked into the world of a book, you walk around for a while once you’ve finished it still feeling like the hero or heroine?
Anyway, in the end I cheated and picked two. One is the heroine of Muriel Spark’s novel loitering With Intent, Fleur, who’s an aspiring writer, living in London in the early 50$ (there’s a lot of the young Spark in her), working for a strange organisation called the Autobiographical Association by day, saving her ‘best brains’ for working on her beloved novel at night. It has a wonderfully blithe, light-hearted atmosphere, mainly thanks to Fleur, who’s one of these enviany self- confident, self-possessed, quick witted individuals, calmly certain of who she is and where she’s going. The plot is a bit like a mystery novel, as Fleur sets out to stop the rather sinister aristocrat in charge of the Autobiographical Association playing some peculiarly vicious mind-games with the other aristocrats writing their memoirs under his tutelage. Of course she succeeds, and gets her novel accepted, and, as she says, ‘goes on her way reioicing’; the whole thing’s a joy from start to finish.
The other character is a more recent acquaintance, the anti-heroine of Margaret Atwood’s last novel The Robber Bride, Zenia, who’s iust sheer glorious badness incarnate. At the start of the story she’s supposed to be dead, but turns up without warning in a restaurant where the three women whose lives she once wrecked (exploiting then betraying their sympathy, stealing their men) have met for lunch, and is soon up to her old tricks again. She’s a ruthless, fearsomer clever femme fatale, totally without scruples, consummately talented at manipulating others - ‘pure, free- wheeling malevolence’ as Atwood puts it — who lets you indulge all those nastier aspects of your own character (which is always a lot of fun) in vicarious safety.
I Dance, Dance, Dance Haruki Murakarni (Hamish Hamilton £9.99) This sequel to the widely-acclaimed A Wild Sheep Chase. which established Murakarni as Japan's best-selling novelist. continues the tale of an unremarkable man who. having lost his grip on reality and his place in society. struggles to rehabilitate himself. Haunted by the memory of his ex—lover Kiki. he returns to their former rendezvous. the bizarre Dolphin Hotel with its unreal rooms and residents. Here he finds himself in charge of a beautiful. abandoned teenager. becomes embroiled in the killing of a call—girl and forges an unlikely friendship with an old schoolrnate turned film star. Reality remains unreliable throughout
this weird odyssey. as our hero tries to get a life worth living. and is slowly propelled back into society. A highly readable and witty tale. pleasineg free of the stiltedness that can bedevil works in translation. it is peculiarly lacking in Japanese flavour. the frequent cultural references owing more to the USA than the Far East. (Cathy Boylan)
TOP SHELF TO BOOKSHELF
I The Playboy Book of Short Stories edited by Alice K. Trrrner (Fourth Estate £12.99) Forget unclad curves. Forget staples through navels. This is a collection ofexcuses for anyone to btry Playboys 40 of the original stories for , which the magazine isjustifrably renowned. one from each year of publication. Adult they are. which is no euphemism. but an adequate description of their tenor. Take James Baldwin's dark tale of "The Manchild‘: a young boy. still breathing innocent as he patters around his father's farm
(RE)BIRTH AND DEATH
I Resurrection Man Eoin McNamee (Picador £14.99) Sectarian knife- killings in 70s Belfast. a darkly sketched world of pubs and quiet fatnin households. This is the story of i Victor Kelly. a Protestant harassed for suspected Catholic roots. who finds acceptance and fulfilment through the UVF and his eventual role as head of the Resurrection Men. at new group of sectarian murderers. McNamee's first novel has a definite ’ style. always understated. Murders are quietly. dispassionately described. People's roles in the world ~ their family. duty and place -— are lingered upon. Towards the end of the novel i there is a sense of ghosts drawing
around. events pulling fatefully together to leave everything neatly as predicted. The characters are perhaps
wondering at the quarrelling adults; the sting in its tail is pure whiplash. ()r ‘Black Country' in which Charles Beaumont intoxicates the reader through the concentrated jaw. of a
dying horn player. ()r Ursula K. Le
l Guin‘s soft reflection on change as the
i population of an Eastern bloc country goes about ‘Unlocking the Air" after the Berlin wall comes down. Though there‘s some unevenness of quality. each tale leaves a tang of the year it first appeared. and overall the collection represents the best of modern straight North American fiction. (Thom Dibdin)
weakly defined at points. but this almost adds to the atmosphere: faceless men in a dangerous city. A highly readable debut. black and still. creating a peace of its own amidst a bloody
i conflict. (Gavin Inglis)
I Memories of the Ford Administration John Updike (Penguin £5.99) Deft. vivid interweaving of two unloved American eras — the run-up to the Civil War and the post-Watergate. casual-sex-obsessed 7()s — through the story of history professor Alfred Clayton. his busy. tangled love- life. and his iii-progress biography of luckless president James Buchanan. who reached office just in time to see his country propelled into conflict. l enjoyed this when I first read it. but now its protagonists’ misogyny seems unpleasantly to permeate the whole. an impression exacerbated by the tacky-as- hell cover: a nude. head-cropped female torso stamped with the Stars and Stripes. I A llest of Magpies Sybil Marshall (Penguin £5.99) This semi- autobiographical first novel. originally published when the author was 79. is a slow. sweet tale of autumnal romance and old-fashioned country ways. as a middle- aged widow returns to the traditionally- rninded Fenland village of her childhood and finds love with her step-cousin — only he's still married to his estranged wife. and both of them take a decidedly old- world view of the situations rights and wrongs. But you know there'll be a happy ending . . . and it's not nearly as sickly as it sounds.
I Soul Providers: Writings by Single Parents edited by Gill McNeil (Virago £6.99) First of two timely titles from Virago. comprehensively trashing government bogeys of feckless scroungers producing delinquent children. with lively. wry. funny. angry and moving accounts from women (and one man) who know the true story best. How about Princess l)i. as the richest single parent in the land. sending one copy to every ‘bastard' in the Cabinet'.’
I Bread Wine & Women: The Ordination
, Debate in the Church of England Susan
I Dow ell iv Jane Williams (Virago £7.99)
Slim. measured volume by two Anglican
; feminists giving a clear layperson‘s
‘ account of the long battle for female priesthood. including the relevant pro and anti-theology. the hundred-year-old roots of recent campaigns and a thoughtful look to the future. seeing last year‘s victory not as an end but the beginning of an exciting new chapter.
, I Dangerous to Know Margaret Yorke
l (Arrow £4.99) (‘laustrophobie cautionary study of an abusive marriage. and the slow-bum crisis precipitated by the wife‘s tentative first bid towards greater independence (and exacerbated by don't- get-involved turning of blind eyes). by an older-school crime writer. whose plain style generates an effectively building sense of horror concealed in the everyday. 1 (Sue Wilson)
, V EVENTS '
I The Animals of Farthing Wood — Storytelling Sat 26. 2.30pm. Dillons. 174—176 Argyle Street. 248 4814. Free. Kids‘ story session from (‘olin Dann‘s popular books and TV cartoons. with various costumed characters in auendance.
I James Kelman Wed 30. 6.30pm. John Smith 8; Son. 57 St Vincent Street. 221 7472. Free. The doyen ofconternporary Scottish writers reading from. discussing and signing his brilliant new novel Hmv lute It Hits, How [we (Seeker & \Varburg £14.99).
I James Kelman Tue 29. 7pm. Waterstone's. 128 Princes Street. 226 2666. Free. The doyen ofeontemporary
Scottish writers reading from. discussing , and signing his brilliant new novel How
Lute I! War, How Late (Secker & \Var‘burg £14.99).
I Gordon Meade, Mike Dillon & Morelle Smith Sun 27. 8pm. Tron Ceilidh House. Hunter Square. info ()33 336 491. Free. Monthly ‘Shore Poets' reading. Meade is Writing Fellow at Duncan ofJordanstone College of Art in Dundee; lrishrnan Dillon is a songwriter as well as a poet. and Smith. the author of two collections. won a Norrliwonls prize last year. Willi music from singer-songwriter Ian Cochrane.
I Stephen Fry Thurs 7. 7.30pm. George Square Theatre. tickets from Waterstone's. I83 George Street. 225 3436. £3 (£2). A one-man show from the deadpan funny- rnan. rolled in with snippets from and signing of his new novel The Hippopotamus (Hutchinson £14.99).
I Women in Publishing: Spreading the Word Thurs 7. 7.30pm. l‘ilmhouse. Lothian Road. info Alison Jones 343
' 2050. Non-members £1. This month‘s
guest is Margaret .\1c(_}regor of l‘idinburgli District Council. who will give an
illustrated talk on the history and future of the high-profile ‘/.cro'l‘oler‘ancc'
56 The List 25 March—7 April 1994