Niall Duthie (Fourth Estate £16.99) *****
With gently lyrical prose and a flair for an unexpected turn of phrase, Niall Duthie weaves together two tales: that of an injured soldier recuperating in a wartime hospital, and that of an actor playing him in a contemporary feature film. The common thread is the ‘pillow book' - its format based on those kept by Japanese courtesans - in which the soldier, Gilmerton, records his thoughts, and from which the film’s script is developed.
The absurd demands of war — the necessary transformation of gentle, thoughtful people into cowards - are sensitively balanced with the artifice and pretence of the modern acting profession, whilst the structure questions the processes of response, description and memory. Snatches of film script and private journal interact with conventional narration, and the nature of identity is questioned as the actor, Orr, adopts the character of Gilmerton via the medium of his written words.
Weighty as all this may sound, however, the publishers’ claim that Aberdeen-born, Edinburgh-based Duthie has employed radical textual experimentation is overplayed. If Lobster Moth is radical, it is because it unfashionably eschews grit or shock tactics, relying upon subtler power.
Certainly the structure is playful and the narrative self-referential, but ultimately this is a poetic and rather sweetly old-fashioned novel, in which grace of language and precise characterisation eclipse concerns of form. This is a story as complex and yet finally as delicate as the moth of its title.
(Hannah McGill) u Lobster Moth is out now
the authority to write this book, but also confers upon her the status of panah.
It is Marlowe’s understanding and exploration of this dichotomy in our attitude to herom which makes this book so fascinating, and the A to Z structure which allows her the freedom to examine its many facets. She does not shy away from her herom use but, controverSially, chooses to call it recreational and to distance herself from any crutch Which the notion of addiction might have offered her
Hers might not be typical of herom use, but her insight IS a positive addition to the literature about the drug, and a telling and sophisticated examination of modern somety. (TD)
LEGAL DRAMA The Testament John Grisham (Century £10) +
’Grisham's smart use of the suspense novel to explore questions of being and faith puts him squarely in the footsteps Of Dickens and Graham Greene’. This preposterous claim by Publishers Weekly WOuld appear to apply to The Testament, the former lawyer’s latest shallow, padded-out 'bestseller’.
When multi-billionaire TrOy Phelan commits suicide after leaVing his fortune to an unknown illegitimate daughter, his hideous heirs team up With unscrupulous lawyers to contest the Will. It's up to burnt-out litigator Nate O’Riley, fresh out of rehab, to find the benefiCiary, currently working as a missionary in remotest Brazil.
Grisham has moved away from fast thrillers and courtroom dramatics towards satire and parable, but when dealing with groteSQUe characters (little more than broadstroke cliches), he
sneers when he should skewer. O’Riley’s road-to-Damascus instant discovery of a consCience stretches credulity and Grisham’s holier-than- thou stance is more arrogant than admirable. (AM)
COMEDY DIARY Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years
Sue Townsend (Michael Joseph £14.99) +
Get ready Britain, the social commentator diarist is back. We meet up again With Adrian Mole, now aged 30‘/.: years, working as a chef, a Single parent to William and still pathetically in love With Pandora, his first girlfriend While all sorts of life-changing things unfurl — Pandora is elected to Government as part of the Lab0ur landslide, his mother has an affair With Pandora’s father, he nearly becomes a celebrity offal chef plus the discovery of another son ~ the diary still manages to be completely tedious, Adrian Mole tries very hard to be Witty and sharp, and sheer probability states that he Will occasronally hit the mark and raise a giggle. These happen all too rarely and you're left instead With a strong deSire to throw Opal Fruits (to which he is addicted) at him, shouting ’you’re not clever and y0u're far from funny, now bugger off.’ (SB)
REVIEWERS THIS ISSUE:
Nicky Agate, Simone Baird, Catherine Bromley, Thom Dibdin, Brian Donaldson, Miles Fielder, Hannah McGill, Alan Morrison
‘ * ~ * Outstanding
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