Stardust Neil Gaiman (Headline £9.99)

Neil Gaiman is best known for his groundbreaking graphic novel series, Sandman. Along with Alan Moore's The Watchmen, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Art Spiegleman's Maus, Gaiman's writing has elevated comics to a higher plane. Not satisfied with reinventing a whole art form, Gaiman has turned his attention to the traditional novel. His debut Neverwhere became an international bestseller and now he's written Stardust, a fairytale for adults which has already set the US bestseller list ablaze. 'As a kid, I loved fairy stories,’ says Gaiman, ‘and I've often wondered why no one wrote fairy stories for adults.’ Stardust sees a young man, Tristran Thorn, undertaking a quest to catch a fallen star for his beloved, Victoria Forester. The search takes him from the green meadows of rural Victorian England to the fantastic land of Faerie, where Tristran encounters mythical beasts,

Dust brother: Neil Gaiman

witches, animated trees and, of course, wee winged folk. Like traditional fairytales, the prose is beautifully simple while the sheer density of the mythology is breathtaking.

’The most obvious influences are the writers before Tolkien, back in the 19205: Lord Dunsany, Hope Mirrlees and James Branch Cabell, and children's authors like CS. Lewis and E. Nesbit,’ recalls Gaiman. 'Victorian painting definitely fed into it the pre-Raphaelites and poor, mad Richard Dadd. So did poetry: I'd always wanted to reply to John Donne's 'Song' - so beautiful and at the same time such misogynist tripe.’

Gaiman's strange brew of influences from the past is something of a departure from the milieu covered in his graphic novels. Much of Sandman is set in modern day America, while another award-winning venture into graphic novel territory, Mr Punch, headed off for Angela Carter-land with its brand of domestic fantasy. 'It’s one

thing to write a contemporary urban story with weirdness in,’ says Gaiman. ‘I did a lot of it in Sandman, but I thought it would be interesting to do something set in a slightly more distant time and also something with a fairytale straightforwardness. I liked the idea of characters who were good or bad.’

The simple black and white qualities of fairytales invite complex interpretations, invoking metaphor and allegory. Lord Of The Rings, for example, has been read as a commentary on modern warfare. Gaiman is quick to knock such notions about his own novel firmly on the head. 'Stardust is a confection: it's an ice cream. It exists to be a pleasant thing to read. There are probably morals in there (dreams should be held on to; love will conquer some things), but fairy stories exist primarily to delight and to entertain. As Sondheim said, “Morals tomorrow, comedy tonight".' (Miles Fielder)

I Stardust is published on Thu 24 Jun. See Book events.

PULP ANTHOLOGY Southern Nights

Barry Gifford (Rebel Inc £8.99) * t i *

His writing career encompasses novels, poetry, essays, biography and criticism, but it's for his film collaborations with David Lynch Wild At Heart and Lost Highway that Barry Gifford is best known in the UK. The title for the latter (but not the plot) came from a line in the first chapter of 1992’s Night People 'we just a couple Apaches ridin' wild on the lost highway, the one Hank Williams sung about'.

Now Scottish publisher Rebel Inc has collected that book and two of Gifford's other novels about trashy life in the Deep South - Arise And Walk and Baby Cat-Face in a single volume that brings to the boil a tasty gumbo stew of social misfits, oddball

religions, murderous obsessions and sexual perversions.

- These aren't novels in any traditional

sense, more a spider’s web of tales that sends overlapping characters on a fateful collision course. Gifford's often hilarious vision of American life jumps out of the pages of a supermarket tabloid magazine: over and over again, the heroically dysfunctional cast of cable TV confessional wannabes die in spectacular, dramatically heightened ways.

The chapters are as short as single movie scenes, but together create a narrative pace that tears along those lost highways and detours off down swampy country lanes. It’s bizarrely funny stuff, but the unexpectedly violent demises that are meted out along the way make the readers catch the laugh in their throats. Gifford’s America is a country severely in need of psychiatric help—(Alan Morrison)

preview BOOKS

First writes

Putting debut novelists under the microscope. This issue: Anouchka

Grose Forrester:

Who she? Anouchka Grose Forrester was born in Sydney in 1970 and moved to London two years later. She got in trouble at school for her waist- length lilac and blue extensions, ran away to the countryside before coming back to work in various trades - busking, lampshade-making, market research and shoe-packing. Then, one day she auditioned for Terry Hall as guitarist but the album they subsequently reCOrded was listed in Arena as one of the 50 worst ever made. Art college beckoned and a travel scholarship sent her to Las Vegas. On her return she counter- balanced her artistic and writing endeavours with a receptionist's job. Her debut It's called Ringing For You and is billed as ’a love story with interruptions.’

Basically Basically, it’s the tale of a nameless receptionist (let's call her Anouchka) who is off-setting tedium by

writing a novel centring on her romance

With the Man Who Mustn’t Be Mentioned. Her mum looks like Helen Mirren and her dad is a bit like Steve Martin. As the difference between truth and reality becomes harder to distinguish, weighty issues come to the fore master and slave dialectic; good and evil; the invention of the telephone; and the politics of lunch.

First line test 'I’ll tell you the main thing you need to know about me, after which everything else will be subsidiary. This is the lens through which you’ll need to look to understand all my actions. I've always been someone who would probably describe themself as happy. But equally I’ve always gone around with a strong sense of something being badly missing. I think I'm pretty normal in this respect.’

To whom the book is credited 'For Patricio’ (her Argentinian husband and conceptual artist). (Brian Donaldson)

I Ringing For You is published by Flamingo at £9. 99.

10~24 Jun 1999 TIIEIJS'I’W