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David Hajdu (Granta) air it we
An overdue biography of Billy Strayhorn, which earns its stars more for the inherent interest of its subject than Haidu’s painstaking but rather earnest treatment. The enigmatic Strayhorn is ripe material for the biographer — a muSical genius who seemed content to hide his lustre behind Duke Ellington’s giant shadow, overtly and publicly homosexual in a time and milieu when that was rare, a dedicated socialite whose gaiety
cloaked a core of loneliness. The major weakness of the book is that it never grapples with Strayhorn’s music in anything like the Sympathetic detail with which it chronicles his relationships and social Circle, leavmg us with an over-filled picture of his life as a gay black man, but a much fuzzier, take-it-on~trust understanding of why his music was important. Hadiu does not really get behind his complex musical relationship with Ellington, either, which would make a book in itself. (KM)
Colin Bateman (HarperCollins £16.99) it 1% * i
There seems little to stop Colin Bateman right now. Critical acclaim is not a new phenomenon for the Nonhern Irish journalist turned novelist. His previous three books (Of Wee Sweetie Mice And Men was the last) have been tools for mapping The Troubles in as amusing and direct a way as possible without taking any obvious stance other than showrng up the obscenity and futility of the violence for what it is.
Here, Bateman diverts his Wit to the USA in the form of Nathan Jones, a seCurity guard at the Empire State Building. Jones is an archetypal Bateman hero, filled With insecurity and racked With all kinds of doubts as political and personal hell breaks loose around him.
Celebrate the publication of the 100th Rough Guide
with the author
as he shows slides and gives advice, on travel to
Thursday 10th April 7pm Cafe Royal (upstairs) West Register Street
Tickets £2 including Chinese buffet
CHINA CHINA CHINAQY
0» 4 CHINA CHINA CH
Waterstone’s (East End) I 3/14 Princes Street Edinburgh
0131 556 3034
92 THE usr 4-47 Apr I997
Sex and fundamentalism, both religious and racial, are up for inspection in Bateman's inimitable way. Just try reading the neo-Nazi comeuppance denouement without chortling yourself silly. (BD)
Dermot Bolger (Flamingo £16.99) ****
An absurdly prolific author of novels, plays and poetry, Bolger writes convincingly in any number of idioms and a myriad of settings. From London clubland through anonymous suburbia to shoot ’em up Dublin gangland, this is one thriller which refuses to leave the reader idling in that armchair.
The book’s 388 (and not one too many) pages chart the misadventures of Sally Evans, a twentysomething Wiseacre brimming with fear and self- Ioathing and desperate to discard her troubled childhood. Other peOpIe may have been Sartre’s definition of hell, but then he never met Sally’s family, a right
bunch of ding-dongs. Never mind the internecine clan of her lover, a manipulative Irish businessman with more faces than a full-on Mod revival. The thread of Irish folk music runs throughout, exquisitely lyrical in detail, adding a fine virtual soundtrack to a yarn of considerable verve. (RE)
Alice Thompson: award winning Edinburgh novelist
Justine Alice Thompson (Virago V £6.99)
You'd think receivmg an award for fiction as prestigious as the James Tait Black Memorial Prize would be enough to keep your head spinning for months. But this year’s joint Winner, former editor of The List and ex- Woodentops keyboard player Alice Thompson, has more practical matters to concern herself with. She’s getting hnched.
'l’m cutting short my honeymoon to read at the Assembly Rooms,’ states the 34-year-old Edinburgh-based author who shares her award With Graham SWift. ’Then down to the National Theatre in London on IS April, then off to Venice on 16 April. So we’re having a working honeymoon.’
The readings come from her Winning novel Justine, a puzzle of obsesSion whose narrator becomes transfixed by the unattainable Justine and her enigmatic twin, Juliette. He, in turn, becomes the hunted and ends entrapped in a labyrinthian hell. To add to the sense of mystery and revelation, the reader had to slice open the pages of the book’s original Canongate publication to read on.
Virago liked it so much that they are publishing the paperback. ’They bought it in October or November,’
recalls Thompson, ’It was nice of them to believe in the book before it had won anything.’
Having beaten off the challenge of such literary luminaries as Julian Barnes, Barry Unsworth and Iain Banks, you’d think Thompson would have a shiny cup weighing down her mantelpiece. ’My brother bought me a kind of Woody Woodpecker trophy With a pink feather coming out of its head,’ recollects Thompson. 'l've still got the envelope With “James Tait Black Award" written on it so it's engraved on my heart.’
The book, however, seems like a distant memory to Thompson. ’| read it so many times before it had been published, it’s very much a feeling that I’m on to the next one and it does very much feel like I haven’t written it,’ she says ’l’m still happy to talk about it but it really feels like it's someone else’s bookf
While Justine is set to be published in Dutch, German, Danish and Hebrew, the author is working On a new composition That, too, Will have to remain a mystery. ’I don’t like talking about it because I feel it puts a IlnX on it,’ (Brian Donaldson)
Alice Thompson is part of Literary LaSSies at the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, Mon 14 Apr, 7,30pm, [3 (£7).