Ladysmith Giles Foden (Faber £9.99)

Being drawn to the nastier figures in history has been a source of much literature down the ages. For Giles Foden, he couldn't have picked a more loathsome character than Uganda's tyrannical buffoon Idi Amin for his debut novel, The Last King Of Scotland. With his follow-up, Ladysmith, there is more of a cross- section of individuals in his snapshot of the Boer War. But one figure casts his larger-than-life shadow across proceedings - a young war correspondent going by the surname Churchill.

'You've got someone whose romantic attachment to the Empire is something to disparage but it is undeniable that it was that that gave him the strength to lead the country at a time when it desperately needed that kind of leader.’ insists Foden. ‘l'm not saying that we would have necessarily lost the Second World War without him but our chances of winning would have been far less. My revisionism of him is through a curiosity with his ambiguity.’

In the course of the book. there is a

History teller: Giles Foden

very brief meeting between the war correspondent and a stretcherocarrier - some thin bloke called Ghandi. 'It certainly was possible,’ replies Foden to an enquiry on the likelihood of their paths crossing in 1899. 'T hey were both at Spion Kop at the same time and it’s weird to think that you had the world's greatest pacifist and one of the world's greatest war-worriers, let's not say warmonger, meeting in their youth.‘

Giles Foden's own early days were spent in many countries across the African continent, his parents having moved there when he was a toddler. He returned to Cambridge to study English in the late 80s and has pursued a career in journalism while simultaneously working on the literary historical imagination which has brought plaudits and prizes (he scooped the Whitbread First Novel Award for The Last King Of Scotland).

Ladysmith picks a moment in time when the world changed forever. The key siege in the battle between the Boers and the Brits, detailed with both humour and horror. was a microcosm of a new kind of war. ‘Public opinion started to play a role in how war was made and when wars would end.’ states Foden. 'A modern comparison would be Vietnam where the British public started off being very patriotic but as the years went by and the thing went on and on people became less certain about why it was happening and getting sick of the casualties and the horror stories.’

He perhaps has one more book set in Africa in the bag, but Foden is looking to fish around for other topics and settings - 'I think there'll be one about horse racing; it's the only sport I know anything about.’ (Brian Donaldson) I Ladysmith is out now.

Bitched up: Scott Capurro 88 THE LIST 9—23 Sep 1999

BLACK COMEDY Scott Capurro Fowl Play (Headline £9.99)

A stand-up comedian writes a novel in Which the main character is . . . a stand-up comedian. It's bound to be autobiographical, right? Wrong. Despite what many will choose to believe, Fowl Play, Scott Capurro‘s debut, and also the basis for his recent Fringe show, is not a thinly disguised version of his life story. 'I hope that people remember when they’re reading this that it’s all fake and these guy's responses to things are not my own,’ says the 1994 Perrier Newcomer Award winner.

Still, it's a relief to find that the unsavoury types in this blackest of black comedies are not merely fictional representations of Capurro‘s psyche - to describe them as dysfunctional would be a gross understatement.

Tom, the book's narrator, is a bitter, insecure bitch. Firmly in the closet at work, yet out and proud at play, his career as a stand-up is on the skids. After being dumped by the guy he adores, he embarks on the mother of all benders. This prompts him to delve into his trailer trash upbringing, reminisce about a plethora of unsuitable lovers and make truly offensive, but nevertheless funny, observations on family, pulling and Oprah Winfrey.

’l'm iconoclastic in my stand-up anyway so I wanted this character to be the same but for the wrong reasons,’ insists Capurro of his venomous anti-hero. ‘I wanted him to be threatened by everything.’ It's this fear which leads to a shocking denouement and satisfying explanation of the poultry roasting leitmotif.

(Dawn Kofie) I Fowl Play is published on Thu 9 Sep.

First writes

Putting debut novelists under the microscope. This issue: V.K. Mina Who she? V.K. Mina is an Indian woman living in New York whose prose has appeared in publications such as Turnstile and The Kenyon Review. Many of these pieces have finally come together in her first novel. Her debut It’s called The Splintered Day and is trailed as a novel concerning ’Iove, identity and the cross-currents of desire.‘ So, there's lots of 'alternative’ lifestyle stuff going on in there.

Basically Basically, it's an end of decade look at Iowlifes and wannabes, misfits and exiles, bohemia and purgatory. The eight chapters have titles such as 'Becoming A Man’, ’The Dress You Wear, Your Perfume‘ and ’Cocksucking For Beginners: A Recipient’s Guide'. For Mina’s characters, the only constraints on pleasure are the ones in their own minds.

First paragraph test ’I read a few chapters of Dany Laferriere. You might think I already knew how to make love to a Negro, but I was tired, so very tired, so obviously there was something I wasn’t getting right. My stomach turned and turned.’

Back chat Complimentary jacket comments come from Jane DeLynn: 'takes us beyond the cheap theatrics of the standard provocations', while the aforementioned Laferriere insists: ‘she likes to consume the flesh of a confused youth’.

To whom the book is credited ’My thanks to all the editors concerned, particularly the late Dorisjean Austin. Most of all, my gratitude to Michelle Hill, for her arul and her acuity.’

Grand claims corner It’s billed as a modern Madame Bovary and has been compared to Tama Janovitz's Slaves Of New York for its vivid capture of Manhattanites at play in the area's clubs, bars and bedrooms.

(Brian Donaldson)

I The Splintered Day is published by Serpent’s Tail on Thu 23 Sep priced £8.99.

by V.K. Mina