[_______-_. --__ _ . _ I CONTEMPORARY SCOTTISH When They Lay Bare
l Andrew Greig (Faber £16.99)
' The Mercy Boys 3 John Burnside (Cape £10)
I Very much the motorway drivers of literary culture, novelists rarely branch off onto the byway marked modern poetry. We don’t expect Martin Amis to supply his publishers
with a slim collection of sonnets
between novels and Ian McEwan is
unlikely to bash out a few haikus in the break between Booker nominations.
Check out the literary contraflow and it's a very different story, however. Indeed, 1999 is shaping up as the year of the poet-novelist. Tobias Hill has just made his fiction debut with Underground, and now two of Scotland's most respected poets have also broken out of that often elitist pigeonhole.
But then both John Burnside and Andrew Greig are old hands at the old fiction business. The Mercy Boys - an exploration of male emotional life through the lives of four hardened drinkers in Dundee — is Burnside's follow-up to his '97 debut, The Dumb House, while Greig's chiller cum thriller, When They Lay Bare is the Bannockburn—
The end results, however, are very different. Burnside's
r . I"
Burnside and Greig: poets in motion
literary inspirations. When They Lay Bare draws on classroom favourite The Twa Corbies while Burnside's glib summary of his own book is 'Dostoevsky meets Pilgrim’s Progress in Dundee.’
born scribe's third fictional outing. Both have their own reasons for jumping the literary tracks.
'Certain ideas or subject matter demand expression through fiction,‘ explains Burnside. 'I think in terms of frames. A poem is a certain kind of frame and a piece of fiction is a much bigger frame, if you like. Perhaps a poem is a place where you can work out an idea through imagery, whereas the sprawling social or psychological interplay of various things demands fiction.‘
Greig's switch appears more down to earth: ‘Readership and money, simple as that. And as you get older, life is one damn thing after another.’ And this, he suggests, is a better recipe for prose than poetry.
Burnside and Greig share some personal and literary overlaps other than poetry — both are fortysomething
writers living in Fife and both of their novels point to
exploration of the 'lost lyricism' of the Scottish male floats along like the literary equivalent of a continuous steadicam tracking shot, while Greig's Borders-set story of love and violence from the past seeping into the present is a busier affair as a number of narrative voices take their turn.
What both do have in common is their attempt to show parts of Scotland that don't often feature in contemporary fiction. ’l'm quite concerned to balance out this idea that Scottish equals urban,’ states
Burnside. ‘I wanted to show that rural can be as creepy ,
and strange and violent as anything produced in the city.’ Who says there's no fun to be had off the beaten track? (Teddy Jamieson)
I When They Lay Bare is published on Mon 3 May; The Mercy Boys is published on Thu 6 May.
ELMORE LEONARD »
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Be Cool Elmore Leonard (Viking £16.99) *ir
For years, Elmore Leonard’s millions of fans have complained, justly, that movie adaptations have failed to live up to the standards set by their hero on the page. Ironic and slightly worrying then, that the crime veteran’s latest novel isn’t a patch on either Soderhc-rglr's blinding Out Of Sight or Tarantino’s superb Jackie Brown.
Part of the problem lies in the success of Get Shorty, the first modern screen Leonard. Unfortunately, having a hit seems to have turned old Elmore’s head, since 80 Cool is full of self- referential self-congratulation. If you’ve not seen or read the first Chili Palmer adventure, don’t bother opening the new book you'll be baffled.
l I l l I i
For starters, it's a sequel to the 3 original novel which constantly jokes about how bad the non-existent 3 follow-up to the movie was. All very i postmodern of course, but a dangerous game to play when the l sequel you are reading is so shoddy. l
Expanding the location from Hollywood to include the LA. music i scene brings further pitfalls, largely due to the ephemeral nature of pop fame . and credibility. When Chili poaches a ' member of a Spice Girls tribute band and turns her into Sheryl Crow, you wonder whether he’s doing her any ‘ favours.
What partly rescues the book is characterisation — particularly Eliot, the bi-sexual Samoan bodyguard, and Palmer, who remains a suave presence. Ultimately, however, this just isn’t cool enough. (Rob Fraser)
Putting debut authors under the microscope. This issue: Kate Margam Who she? Kate Margam is a professional actress, regularly performing her own poetry and sketches in a one-woman show. She has also written two plays.
Location report She currently resides in London where she ’reads' law at the University of London’s Birbeck College. Her debut It's called Poor Kevin and is a darkly comic take on modern romance with obsession, betrayal and stalking never far from the surface. Cast list Louise is a very 905, very broad-minded, very Hampstead sex therapist whose boyfriend doesn't seem to fret too much over her job. But then she meets Kevin; Kevin seems to be the perfect man — the right age, in the rudest of health and the sharpest of wit, but that attractive exterior hides something a little less savoury; other diverse attractions include an alter-ego Elvis and a transvestite dancer called Malcolm ll. Catchline ‘Thirty-five, fit, good- looking. He doesn't stand a chance . . ’
, Basically... Basically, it's in turns a comedic, disturbing, life-affirming and
devious take on sex, religion, therapy and fish. It also looks at the way human relations and our sense of morality may be developing as we approach the M word.
First line test ’He’s a good bloke, is Kevin. All his mates say so. Which would make him smile — he likes things to be simple. Solid, reliable, funny Kevin.’
Back chat The back cover has Stella Duffy insisting that Margam's Louise
would go on the piss with Bridget
Jones and give her a slap. It makes Paul Magrs feel that he has led a sheltered life.
To whom is it credited? 'For my sister, Jenny.’ (Brian Donaldson)
:23 Poor Kevin is published on Thu 6 May by Serpent’s Tail at f 7. 99.
29 Apr-l3 May 1999 mums: