Edinburgh-born novelist Gandia McWilliam, whose new novel Debatable land is published by Bloomsbury, takes Justin McKenzie Smith on a tour of her favourite fictional characters.
‘A random selection of my many favourites would have to include the boring characters in fiction: well done, boring characters. There’s a man with the John Major-like name of John Grey in Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her. He’s very impressive because he is boring but he’s also good and by the end of the book one is devoted to him. How difficult it is to write someone who is wholly good and to read them without being bored. One feels his character develops and even though goodness is an absolute, he is interesting.
‘With women it is much harder, because for some reason, women in fiction are seen to ring and resonate in the reader’s mind better when they aren’t nice. The archetypal bit of fiction that contrasts this is Vanity Fair. Thackeray is so full of wit, the whole book bursts with life. He can’t cease commentating. Becky Sharpe is really bad but we like her and are interested in her. At a much lower level, it’s the Gone With The Wind syndrome but it’s the same thing operating.
‘A really engaging, magical character with both black and diamond in her nature is Lizzie Eustace in The Eustace Diamonds by Trollope. She has real charm which is a hard thing to do because it can come across as brittleness or something positively menacing like Lady Marchmain in Brideshead, whose charm is murderous. Of course, English charm is much less attractive than most other sorts of charm. it’s more self- interested which is certainly the case with lady Marchmain. She uses it in order to perform a sort of hideous religious anschluss on others. She is evangelising with her charm, whereas some people simply are charming. Lizzie Eustace has that sort of fire and speed and dash as well as nobility. Scots charm is different again being verbal and flashing but not flashy.
‘The real bad woman of fiction who sticks like a thorn in my brain is Pamella Flitton in The Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. She dances with death and she’s very sexy. People fall in love with her really because she is so vile. She is all bone and she is sadistic and she ensures that your life — heretofore perfectly pleasant - will be hellish once you have fallen in love with her. Men just fall like flies. She is wonderfully written and observed, and the Pamella FIitton-type, the femme fatale really exists.’
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I Wouldn’t Take llothing For My Journey llow Maya Angelou (Virago £9.99) In this little book of random writings Angelou jots down thoughts on Christianity. racism. fashion. womanhood — a page here and there of just whatever pops into her head. The result is poor, mixing Reader's Digest pearls of wisdom — ‘laugher is therapeutic‘. ‘amiability lengthens the lifespan’ — with snippets from the New
Testament. and plain naivety — ‘travel is good for racial harmony‘. Surely any writer who calls death — ‘that country of no return‘. offers fashion advice or advises you to strike out on a new path if life doesn’t agree with you. is hoping for uncritical readers.
The gospel according to Maya is something like: think positive. suffer in silence. trust in the Lord. reap what you sow and be true to yourself. Rigorous it is not. These are lots of little Thoughts For The Day. all ofthem trite. More chance of coming across profundity in the pub. (Cath Boylan)
I Jasmine llights S. P. Somtow (Hamish Hamilton £9.99) There appears to be an abundance of coming- of~age novels emerging at the moment and Jasmine Nights is the latest addition to a whole host of novels likened to Catcher In The Rye.
The book. with its setting in Thailand and its backdrop ofan affluent high society riddled with rituals and servitude. couldn‘t be more different. Yet there is an underlying sense of innocence being eroded by experience which is evoked to great effect by Somtow.
The story. published originally in 52 instalments in The Bangkok Post has caused a few ripples of controversy in its portrayal of Thai aristocracy in the 1960s. Little Frog. a twelve—year-old Thai boy born into tnonied eccentricity. is brought up by three aunts (whom he calls the ThreeFates) and the novel follows not only his emerging sensibility but the cross-cultural confusion of his upbringing: he understands tnore English than he does Thai and he sits down to a breakfast of bacon and eggs rather than the traditional Khao Toni. An evocative and humorous book. (Toni Davidson)
THE WOMAN’S GLOOM
I Saving Agnes Rachel Cusk (Picador paperback £5.99). This slight. oh-so sensitive tale picked up the Whitbread First Novel pn'ze last year. and is another example of that relentlessly fashionable genre. the gossamer-thin account of female angst. Agnes Day is the unremarkable heroine. prone to elaborate bouts of self-analysis. neurotic reminiscences ofchildhood. and bleak squeamishness at the details
of everyday life.
It’s a studiedly introspective novel. told almost entirely in Agnes's thought- pattems. irony free. but nevertheless prone to self-conscious pans and wordplay as galumphingly gauche as its colourless characters. Cusk aims for
authenticity of feeling. and perhaps the
fact that the reader ends up as depressed as Agnes is testimony to her skill. but should we really applaud writing that celebrates ennui and lassitude so thoroughly? (Tom Lappin)
I Postcards E. Annie Proulx (Flamingo £5.99) With a main protagonist called Loyal Blood the expectations are of a lone dust-bowl odyssey through the American West. These expectations and much more are fulfilled in this Faulknerian debut novel screaming with poetic beauty and twanging with gritty realism.
I The Stone Diaries Carol Shields (Fourth Estate £5.99) Shortlisted for the 1993 Booker Prize. this positively hums with vibrancy in its rich tale of the life of Daisy Goodwill. From birth in Manitoba to death in Florida 90 years later. this is a bewilderingly beautiful novel that haunts you days after putting it down.
I A Time To Rage Tomtny Sheridan (Polygon £7.95) Pollok‘s saviour or rabble-rousing egomaniac — whatever your view ofCouncillor Sheridan there‘s no denying his pivotal role in the Anti Poll Tax Federation. This is a colourful. though by no means literary. personal and political recollection that will no doubt find its way into the annals of the People‘s Palace.
i 9’ (gémjy. I Foetal Attraction Kathy Lette (Picador £5.99) Already heading for the small screen this is the beach book of 1994 — the most hilariously seat-wetting satire on lust. childbirth and the London glitterati ever to be written. Lette is the mistress of an irreverantly. pyrotechnic brand of language that bursts with zest and warped intelligence. (Ann Donald)
I Alan Hollinghurst and Gandia MacWilliam Wed 8. 7pm. John Smith & Son. 252 Bytes Road. 334 2769. One of the most impressive literary gay voices. Hollinghurst reads from his latest offering. The Folding Star (Chatto & Windus £15.99). Accompanied by MacWilliam reading from her most accessible and ambitious novel to date Debatahle Land (Bloomsbury £15.99).
I William Gaddis Tue 7. 7.30pm. Waterstone‘s. 83 George Street. 225 3436. A rare reading from one of America’s foremost writers. here to promote his latest ‘devastatingly accurate tale of our litigious times' — A Fro/it- ()ins Own (Viking £16).
I James Robertson Tue 14. 7.30pm. Waterstone‘s. 83 George Street. 225 3436. The launch ofa new collection of Scottish short stories edited by James Robertson/l Tongue In Yer Heid (B & W £6.99) features contributions from the likes of lrvine Welsh. Billy Kay and Alison Kermack.
I Barbara Vine Thurs 16. 7.30pm. Waterstone's, 83 George Street. 225 3436. Ruth Rendell in disguise as Ms Vine signs copies of her latest dark crime novel. No IVIy/ll /\ In“ In"): IVlklllg I
I Alan Hollinghurst and Gandia MacWilliam '1 nt- 7, 7pm. Waterstone‘s. 13
Princes Street. 556 3034. The literary duo give a repeat performance of their Glasgow reading.
I Martin Millar Thurs 9. 7pm. Waterstone‘s. l3 Princes Street. 556 3034. The literary punk-hippy reads from his latest South London-inspired novel Dreams ()j'Sex‘ and .S'taget/it'ing (Fourth Estate £5.99). See preview.
I Sheena Macllay Tue t4. 7pm. Waterstone‘s. l3 Princes Street. 556 3034. The Edinburgh-born novelist reads from her new collection of short stories inspirationally titled Col/et‘tet/ Short Stories (Penguin £6.99).
I Bernard MacLaverty Thurs 2. 7pm. Waterstone's 128 Princes Street. 226 2666. Reading from his latest collection of short stories. Walking The Dog And Other Stories (Cape £14.99).
I Alan Massie Mon 13. 6.30pm. James Thin. 57 George Street. 225 4495. Reading frotn his fictionalised account of the life of Sir Walter Scott — The Ragged Lion (Hutchinson £14.99).
I Anita Desai Wed 8. 7pm. James Thin. 53—59 South Bridge. 556 6743. As recipient of the Neil Gunn Fellowship Award. the Indian author of In CustotIv and Village Bv The Sea among others. is a guest of the Scottish Arts Council. She will be reading and answering questions about her work this evening and giving the Neil Gunn Lecture on Fri 10 in Lecture Hall A. the David Hume Tower. George Square. University of Edinburgh at 6pm.
I Environmental Book Group Mon 6. 7.30pm. James Thin. 53—59 South Bridge.
556 6743. For those who like their books green.
I Ron Butlin Thurs 16. 7pm. James Thin. 53—59 South Bridge. 556 6743. The poet will be reading from work included in the re-issue of his collection of poetry. The Sound ()fMy l’oit'e (Black Ace £5.95).
I The Apostolic Glub Wed l5—Sat 18. £2/£l. 25 Blackl’riars Street. 556 5204. A week-long celebration of new Scottish writing that promises to kick up some dust in the literary world. Wed 15. 8pm: David McTeague ‘very dangerous' playwright and monologist. Laura llird ‘short story writer with vicious streak'. llay Miles ‘hyper-cynical poet‘. Barry Graham zen- punk novelist and poet. Thurs 16. 8pm: Roddy Lumsden Gregory-award winning poet. Alan Warner Cape novelist. Marina Blake American performance poet. Gordon Grahame unplugged set from Lost Soul Band frontman.
I Gala Evening Tue 7. 8pm. £25 from West and Wilde Bookshop. 25a Dundas Street. 5560079. Arthur Lodge. 60 Dalkeith Road. Fundraising event for West and Wilde Bookshop. Buffet dinner and wine with Alan Hollinghurst. Janice Galloway and Val McDennid who will be reading from their latest novels.
I Benefit Dinner Sun 12. 8pm. £12 (excluding drinks) from Maxi’s Bistro. SAM and West and Wilde Bookshop or tel 555 4850. Maxi's Bistro. West Nicholson Street. The Gay Men's Project of Scottish AIDS Monitor are holding this benefit dinner in memory of Liam Gillespie. All profits to West and Wilde Development Fund.