Crime writer Michael llibdin, whose new Aurelio Zennovel, Dead lagoon, is just published by Faber and Faber, talks to ‘lhom Dibdin about his favourite fictional character.
‘It has to be Philip Marlowe, which I’m sure is not news to anyone. I discovered Chandler when I was in my teens. I was living just outside Belfast, reading hugely and indiscriminately, all kinds of weird and wonderful books: classics, modern classics — a lot of very heavy stuff. I didn’t get turned on to Chandler by someone coming up and saying “you must read this” and I didn’t come to him through movies, although I saw all the films much later. I read one oi the books, I don’t remember which, and thought it was so wonderful I immediately got hold of the others and read the whole series very quickly.
‘I was very unsophisticated, living in a small provincial town before it became notorious. It was very quiet and frankly very dull, for all its charm. I had a tremendous desire to travel, to visit places, particularly exotic places like los Angeles. Here it was being brought into my home. Of course I was absolutely riveted by the narrative drive, the plot complications, the wonderful characters and Chandler’s style. It was like listening to some favourite rock band for the first time: you can’t analyse what it is, but you hear the first twelve bars and that’s it.
‘What I loved about Marlowe, without realising it, was the backchat where he is being witty and street-smart with the people he’s dealing with. ‘lhis extends to his relationship with his creator. You don’t get Marlowe addressing Raymond Chandler. Chandler keeps his distance. lie is not seduced by Marlowe or in love with him in the boring and rather sleazy way in which someone like Sayers is in love with Lord Peter Whimsy.
‘What made it seem really magic was the way Chandler was playing with his character. On one page he would seem to be completely inside the character, using him to express what one presumes his own feelings about Los Angeles, corruption, a certain kind of rich person or a hard-nosed blonde. Then, just as you thought you were safe with that and had worked out what the deal was, on the next page he was sending him up.
‘So there were two levels of sophistication for me, one was the easy level of the exciting world of Southern California. But there was also a much deeper and sophisticated level, which was the writer playing with the protagonist, saying “look, this is not going to be straight forward”. There is something quite complex here, you are being invited to identify with him up to a point, but are
never quite sure what that point is.’
72 The List 6 19 May 1994
I Working Girls And Their Men Sharon Boyle (Smith Gryphon £14.99) You might wonder. will this be lewd or leamed? In fact. Boyle strikes the balance between examining the broad social aspects of selling sex and the individual fetishes and practices ofthe men and women involved. She includes a plethora oftitillating and depressing anecdotes from pimps and customers. £10 a time street walkers and £1000 a night call-girls. all of whom voice their sexual or economic needs and general
affection or loathing for the trade in sex.
Boyle also details the hypocritical character of laws relating to prostitution — men accused of living off immoral earnings are guilty until proven innocent; prostitution is a legal trade for tax purposes but prostitutes are criminalised; a legal service. sex can be offered in an illegal way. As well as discussing proposed solutions she argues convincingly that the sex trade is highly resistant to change and adds her own debatable opinion that prostitution will always exist. (Cathy Boylan)
I Eating Pavlova I).M. Thomas (Bloomsbury £15.99) The author ofThe Flute Player and The White Hotel returns with a more subdued work which will nevertheless help him retain both his position as the literary establishment‘s favourite bete noir and his pivotal role as literary misogynist. 1n [Eating Pavlova. Thomas describes an ailing Freud slipping between reality and fantasy as he waits to die in his Hampstead home at the beginning of World War 11. Struggling with turbulent
inner thoughts. the dying Freud extemalises his conﬂicts and his inner schisms with Anna bearing the brunt of his mind games.
There is no doubt that Thomas is an accomplished and skilful writer; he can turn a phrase with pugilistic zestjust as he can turn your stomach with bleak pornography. With this novel Thomas achieves a level of compassion and insight that succeeds in winning the reader’s renewed confidence. Don't succumb completely. a great deal of the dream imagery batters your head and toys with your sense of morality with its incessant nastiness. (Toni Davidson)
I The Queen Of Sheba Kathleen Jamie (Bloodaxe Books £6.95) Kathleen Jamie is not only an award—winning poet but a veteran East Asian traveller whose work interweaves both the exotic and the ingrained Scottish aspects of her lifestyle. Poems such as Boy In A Blanket and Outreach are the
most obvious results of her wanderlust. while Fountain and Royal Famin Doulton provide immediate passage back to the familiar and contemporary cutting off from the previous immersion in the foreign.
Jamie‘s fountain of Scots and English is employed in the swirling title poem to humorous and questioning effect — ‘Whae dis she think she is — The Queen 0' Sheba?’ — where the shimmering, awe-inspiring heroine ﬁnds herself among the grey Presbyterian aisles of small-town Scotland. Here. language and culture fuse and glow together as they do in The Republic Of Fife a spirited swipe at the P011 Tax that encompasses a political feeling of impotence familiar to Scotland.
Jamie has quite rightly been chosen as one of the New Generation Poets and this darker yet richer and accomplished collection is adequate proof of her poetic credentials. (Helen Waddell)
I And When Did You Last See Your Father? Blake Morrison (Granta £6.99) Heavily-hyped. and rightly so. A son's moving elegy for his dying father. This honest. undeceived biography draws its power from the acuteness of Morrison's observation. and from a depth of love that overcomes the many failings he ﬁnds in his subject. Amidst the sadness and the pain. it is also remarkably funny.
I Crossing the River Caryl Phillips (Picador £5.99) Never mind crossing the river. Caryl Phillips must be having trouble crossing his own front room with all the literary accolades he's picked up in recent years. He will be in Edinburgh this month to collect Scotland's oldest book award. the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for this brilliant work spanning 250 years of the African diaspora. The story of two brothers and a sister on separate journeys through different epochs and continents. Complex. lyrical and innovative. this is highly recommended reading.
I Delusions 0i Grandma Carrie Fisher (Touchstone £5.99) Princess Leia proves that growing up with androids and furry monsters hasn't stopped her from becoming one of the wittiest and most perceptive chroniclers of modern America. The slick style of Postcards front the [Edge carries this new novel through an amusing parable of maternity in LA. But can anyone explain the book's closing acknowledgement. ‘For Boris Yeltsin, who took my calls. . ."?
I Under The Vulcania Maureen Freely (Bloomsbury £4.99) The ﬁrst in a pre- summer season of female erotica written by established authors for respectable publishers who really should know better. Freely's novella portrays an all too familiar world where the fulﬁllment of outlandish fantasies is as routine as dropping the kids off at school. The sex sounds more like aerobics: the plot is a guilty afterthought. Erotic? Only if the Chippendales are your thing. (Justin McKenzie Smith)
I Agnes Owens Wed 18. 7pm. John Smith and Son. 252 Byres Road. 334 2769. Free. ()wens reads from her ﬁrst novel in a while. A ll’orking Mother (Bloomsbury £9.99) which is described as ‘a tragi-comedy. a wild cautionary tale and exceptionally ﬁne entertainment'.
I Frances Paige Thurs 12. 7.30pm. Hillhead Library. 348 Byres Road. 339 7223. Free. Reading from her new book.The Glasgow Girls (Harper Collins £15.99) which focuses on the relationship between three friends in 40s Glasgow.
I Irvine Welsh Sun 15. 8pm- 1 am. The Winter Gardens. Glasgow Green. Tickets in advance from Fopp record store and The 13th Note priced £4. Edinburgh‘s literary golden boy reads from both Trainspotting and the lauded The Acid House as part of this Flow event. Performance poet and regular Flow and List contributor Toni Davidson is also on the acerbic bill.
I Antahkarana Fri 6. 7.30pm. Robin
Anderson Theatre. 261 West Princes Street. Tickets £3.50/£2.50. A cross- media performance by Throwing Poems featuring local poet. Alistair Paterson; movement artist Elspeth Dickie; musician George Ler and painter Bertrand Bracaval.
I Scottish-French Poetry Fri 13. 8pm. College Club. University Avenue. Glasgow University. £3/£2. Readings in English and French by Jean-Jaques Celly and established poet Ron Butlin. plus Tim Cloudsley and Alistair Paterson.
I Open Poetry llight Sat 14. 8pm. Maryhill Community Centre Halls. Maryhill Road. £2/£1. ()pen Poetry Night featuring published and unpublished poets who take the ﬂoor as the muse takes them.
I Rose Elliot Thurs 12. 7.30pm. Waterstone's. 83 George Street. 225 3436. Free. The most well-known British vegetarian cookery writer will be on hand to sign copies of her new book. The Classic Vegetarian Cookbook (Harper Collins £12.99). as well as demonstrate a few tasty and healthy dishes.
I Eric llewby Mon 9. 7pm. James Thin. 53-59 South Bridge. 556 6743. Free. Free wine. The inveterate travel writer will be reading from his new book of memoirs. A Small Place In Italy (Collins £14.99) which is about his experiences of living in a ruined farmhouse in the foothills of the Apuan Alps.
I Adrienne Rich Wed 18. 7pm. James Thin. 53—59 South Bridge. 556 6743. Free. Free wine. Renowned feminist poet reads from her new collection. What Is Found There: Notebooks 0n Poetry and Politics (W. Naughton £14.95).
I Billy Kay Thurs l9. l2.30—1.30pm. Central Library, George [V Bridge. 225 5584. Free. The TV personality. nationalist and author of The Mither Tongue will be giving a lecture on the Scots people and their language.
I llenry llormal Fri 6. 7.30pm. The West End Hotel. Palmerston Place. £1.50. Both a performance poet and stand-up alternative comic he‘s got his poetic hat on this evening. Described by this magazine as ‘A mixture of the absurd and downright wacky . . . a gentle giant of stand-up poetry.‘