UNDER THE COVERS
Poet, playwright and performer Liz lochhead tells Ann Donald about a Canadian author who epitomises the art of the short story.
r’) I g,‘
‘l’m in the middle of writing this piece on the short story so I was rereading Open Secrets by Alice Munro and just fell in love with it all over again. She just writes so sparer and brilliantly in a way that is very sophisticated and deftly funny, yet seems very simple and transparent on the surface. There’s a profundity in the simplicity of her stories. Her style is very “unshowoffy” but absolutely epitomises what short story writing is all about. In fact Raymond Carver - who I am also a big fan of — is always called the modern day Chekhov, but I think that it’s Alice Munro who is right: up there with Chekhov. She never gallops through things. She shows you the tip of the iceberg but at the same time helps you see the whole iceberg. ‘In Open Secrets in particular she manages to write in one short story what ten novels couldn’t do. There are so many layers and time spans to the stories which is very satisfying. Sometimes writers give you a tiny slice of life and it might be beautifully written but you end up feeling “So what!” or “I wish that was a novel”. ‘She’s endlessly curious about different varieties of human being and is so exact about the way people’s hearts work. She’s also such a good satirist. She describes the way pe0ple know what they’re doing and can laugh at themselves. She’s very exact, very conscious and a lot of her characters are very consciously aware of their own feelings. Even though the characters are very articulate about 3 these feelings you realise, as the i reader, that they are only part of the
whole jigsaw within the story. What she reveals at the end of every story . in Open Secrets is the incredible
, mysteriousness of things.’ (Ann
Jan-9 Feb I995
82 The l.isl
I Better Than Sex: Confessions Of A Political Junkie Hunter S. Thompson (Doubleday £15.99) A prerequisite of being pleasured by this book is an interest in contemporary American politics. Thompson's tone is that of someone in a bar ranting on at you for 245 pages. Focusing on the run-up to the USA's 92 elections and Clinton’s lamentable performance since. this is funny and a lot less sanctimonious than Gore Vidal‘s pt‘mtif'tcations on the satne subject. However. this is satire more
bitter than biting and its crude exaggerations only stifle the potentially illuminating facts. Beyond reinforcing the fact that the electoral campaign trail is a sewer bristling with rats and the White House is a suppurating cesspit. this book conveys little else. Even so. it is always readable and amusing and its baggy patchwork construction of letters. articles and illustrations works well. Its typography is quite beautiful which may compensate for the fact that most of this material was culled from Rolling Stone magazine where it was more comfortable between fIimsier covers. being read with the TV burbling in the background. (Paul
H on ghton)
I Contemporary Women’s Short Stories edited by Susan llill (Michael Joseph £l5.99) As Hill states in her introduction. these stories all stand out as being by women. due to the undeniable presence of an extra sense at work —- ‘Probing. identifying. dissecting. sympathising. explaining. revealing and finally understanding.‘ This is a wide-ranging. far-sighted anthology of 24 writers encotnpassing established names like Angela Carter. Maeve Binchy and Sylvia Plath alongside rising stars Ellen Gilchrist and Judith Condon. without prejudice
There are stories about every aspect of family life from sibling rivalry to childhood misConception and the gradual mystical slide into puberty as in Du Mauricr's beautifully evoked The Pool or Condon‘s brittle and sensitive account of a schoolteacher"s quietly hysterical response to the news of her husbands affair.
The common factor is that every story
i possesses a clarity and depth of feeling t which never indulges in sentimentality.
but rather allows the contributors'
; individual emotions and vitality to L overflow onto the page and bring the i stories to life. (Katy Lironi)
I An Anthropologist on Mars Oliver Sacks (Picador £l5.99) For his latest collection of case studies. world famous neurologist Oliver Sacks — probably the only world famous neurologist — leaves the hospital wards of previous books to explore his subjects live in their own habitat. much as a naturalist might.
Each of the individuals studied have conditions that mark them out as bizarre beyond fiction. How about a r successful surgeon whose life outside the operating theatre is dominated by the uncontrollable twitches. tics and compulsions ofTourette's Syndrome? ()r a severely autistic woman. the ‘anthropologist from Mars‘ of the title. whose inability to enter into human
ability to relate to animals'.’ As ever. Sacks avoids the freakshow trap that a lesser writer and thinker
Oliver Sacks with Robin Williams. who played
him in the film Awakenings
might fall into. His humanity allows
' him to reach beyond the literal
1 symptoms to the real individuals. liach one gives him a deeper insight into the
relationships is balanced by an intuitive ,
brain. whose mysteries elude neuro-
é scientists lacking the philosophical dimension of Sacks's approach. (Iiddie
I The Hard Life Flann O'Brien (Flamingo £5.99) Welcome reprint of ()‘Brien's I962 novel. his penultimate before his death in I966. Two young orphans are taken in by the enigmatic and flamboyant Mr Collopy. growing up under his tutelage and discovering their own strengths and weaknesses. Stuffed with Irish nuance and music hall wit. this is charming.
I Against A Dark Background Iain M. Banks (Orbit £6.99) This 487-pager has turned a Banks SI: virgin into a fan.
' Sprawling across the (iolterian system we
follow the trials of Sharrow. cx-military leader now pursued by perilous religious cult. the lluhsz. Will she find her saviour before the Huhsz find her‘.’ Intelligent. lucid and gripping writing devoid of trainspotter mentality.
I Saint Rachel Michael Bracewell (Jonathan Cape £9.99) The “first Prozac novel of the 90s from a ‘well-known commentator on contemporary culture’. Get the picture" When his wife is gripped by depression and pill-popping. John detaches hitnself from the situation. He has almost accepted his new philosophy
when he meets Rachel who transforms his
life but is not all she seems.
I Parable of the Sower ()ctavia ti. Butler (The Women‘s Press £6.99) It‘s 2024. a future in which America's infrastructure has collapsed. Menaced by deprivation and violence. Lauren determines to find a new life. leaving her wretched community to travel the Californian highways.
encountering life-changing experiences on i
the way. Written lll diary form. this linguistically evocative. imaginative work is both chilling and moving.
I The Film Explainer Geri Hofmann (Seeker and Warburg £9.99) Gentle German reminiscence of the author‘s grandfather. employed to play piano and enrich and explain silent movies at the local cinema. When talkics arrive. Hofmann feels redundant and resentful but the threat of war and the rise of Nazism bring him a strange sense of hope. lnfortnative period piece. especially attractive to those with cinematic interests. (Susan Mackenzie)
I ILL. Kennedy Wed l. 7pm. £2/£ 1. (CA. 350 Sauchiehall Street. 332 7521. A reading with dottr yet hopefully enlightening overtones as part of the Bad Times series from Julie Burchill‘s favourite author. Sec Books preview.
I David Attenborough Thurs 2. 4—5pm. John Smith & Son. 57 St Vincent Street. 22l 7472. An exclusive west coast signing from the man from the telly. here to sign copies of The Private Life 0/ Plants (BBC £17.99).
I Cordon Legge and Alan Warner Wed 8. 7pm. £2/£l. (‘CA. 350 Sauchiehall Street. 332 7521. Legge reads from his latest punchy and witty novel I [xll‘t’ Me (Who [)0 lint Int-tn") (Polygon £8.99) and new
boy on the. block Warner reads from his
stunner .Iluri'r'rn ('ttllur (Cape £9.99).
3 Life ()_/'I’lunrs (one £17.99).
I Douglas Dunn Wed 1. 7pm. James Thin. 3
53—-59 South Bridge. 556 67413. A reading
from the poet-turned-novelist to promote
the unassuitiing and gentle short stories in Boyfriends unrl (ilrlfi‘it'nt/s (l-‘aber £l4.99).
I Andrew Creig Wed l. 7.45pm. Netherbow Theatre. High Street. Call
Matthew Hollis on 557 8861 for details. ! One of Scotland‘s leading poets and : currently writer-in-residence at the
University of Edinburgh. Greig will be reading from his collection ll’t'srr'rn Swing (Bloodaxe £5.99).
3 I David Attenborough Thurs 2. l2—tpm. James Thin. 53-59 South Bridge. 556
6743. A signing only from the king of the
plant world as he promotes The Private
I A.L. Kennedy Tue 7, o._‘~o-.s..‘~()pm. (‘onference Room. Central Library. 225 558-1. The author-turned-playwright — she has recently collaborated with Salman Rushdie ‘ holds a workshop for potential playwrights. There are twenty tickets available from reception two weeks
before the event.
I Illustrated Talk On Berlin The 7. 7pm. James Thin. 53.7-59 South Bridge. 556 6743. Gordon Melachlan. the author of numerous gttidcs to (’ierntany will be giving this illustrated tall. to promote his latest ()(l\'.\'.\'(’\‘ Illustrated (inn/e '12) Berlin (Odyssey). Free Berlin beer.
I Robert Bauvall Thurs 9. 7.30pm. Waterstone's. l3 Princes Street. 556 3034. In association with the Royal Observatory. the author of ()I‘lltll .llvslt'rv (Reed £5.99) will give an illustrated talk on astrology and astronomy.