POSTHUMOUS NOVEL Juneteenth
Ralph Ellison (Hamish Hamilton £16.99)
Ralph Ellison's account of a black youth’s journey to adulthood, Invisible Man, has defied the genre categories created for inferior novels. Rite Of Passage, Beat novel, narrative of Black Consciousness, Political novel - they’ve all been thrown at Ellison’s classic, but like its unnamed protagonist, it will conform to no one's world order. Ellison will remain a paradox to all who love Invisible Man. His commentary on the invisibility of the Black American to his culture remains the most cogent appraisal of racial prejudice - even given Wright, Baldwin, Morrison and Johnson -
that American culture has articulated. Produced in 1952, the novel
anticipates the civil rights movement and the more radical and violent separatism which would manifest itself from the 605 onwards. But in a practical sense, Ellison’s solution was the same as his narrator’s. While his debut’s eponymous hero finally chooses invisibility, Ellison, too, distanced himself from activism. Living the life of a university professor he intervened only fitfully in the events of his time. And even then, his actions came in the form of essays only and not fiction.
Racial expressions: Ralph Ellison
For over 40 years, though, Ellison had worked on a sequel to his great novel. Close to its completion, the original version was destroyed by a house fire in the late 605 and the rewrite, envisioned as a trilogy, remained incomplete in 1994 when he died, aged 80. Juneteenth is the product of his friend John F Callahan's attempts to assemble a novel from the twenty boxes and 2000 pages of material left at the end of Ellison’s toils.
The novel tells the story of Hickman (an ageing black evangelist preacher) and Bliss (a right-wing American Senator of avowed racist views). The shooting of Bliss at the end of another exercise in bigotry and empty rhetoric at the Senate leads to a deathbed meeting of the old preacher and firebrand George Wallace-style politician. It
emerges that Hickman has raised Bliss, whose racial origins are not as clear cut as his public has assumed.
From this simple beginning, the story presents a panoply of American life and history, in the manner of works by E.L. Doctorow or Toni Morrison. But it goes on to explore the late-modernist psyche, complete with long, italicised stream-of-consciousness passages which seem to come straight from William Faulkner.
At times moving and poetic, the novel is nevertheless a product of its circumstances, with many parts in need of editing, and some incoherence at the centre which speaks of the incompleteness of its admirable design.
(Steve Cramer) I Juneteenth is published on Thu 2 Dec.
Caper crusader: Colin Bateman
114 THE U81 2—16 Dec 1999
BLACK COMEDY Turbulent Priests
Colin Bateman (HarperCollins £10.99) ‘I decided I wanted to be extremely rich.’ This is Colin Bateman's candid explanation as to why the location of his last three novels switched from his native Northern lreland to North America. But the attempt to crack the US with his brand of swiftly—paced, acerbic tales which straddle the caper and thriller genres was probably hindered by his highlighting of the kind of bigotry that conservative America refuses to address. Perhaps that’s why Turbulent Priests, his sixth offering, sees a return to Northern Ireland, and also to the character of Dan Starkey, the cynical, wisecracking journalist with a penchant for Harp lager and a relaxed attitude towards infidelity (as long as it’s his own). It sees him
attempting to rescue his ailing marriage,
Putting debut novelists under the microscope. This issue: Timothy Murphy
Who he? Timothy Murphy is a New York-based author and DJ who has edited a Manhattan nightlife magazine and whose debut novel has been optioned for film by MTV.
The debut It's called The Breeders Box and tells the tale of the Mitchell family (Thomas aka Tigger, his sister Flip and their fugitive brother Jess) and the six month existence of a club where everyone who was someone would be seen. For Tigger, the end of the club is, somewhat ironically, the end of a certain innocence. There is a touch of the Bret EastOn Ellis celebrity namedropping about the book — margaritas are sunk with Debbie Harry, A&R men are confronted by Madonna and Lou Reed fails to show. You will either dig it or despise it.
Basically . . . Basically, it’s a solid human drama running side by side with the New York clubbing scene. Family, identity and love are the grand topics. The spiritual implications of silicone implants is one of the lesser subjects.
First line test ’The phone beside the bed rings, rousing Seb and me, launching Bella on a braying jag out in the living room, her wet snout quivering vigilantly toward our bedroom, I’m sure.’ Recommendations corner 'Read it if you’re into drugs, fashion, celebrities, parties,’ (Minx); ’anybody who gave his youth to powder, coloured lights and shady sex will read this and smile like a grandfather. Anybody who didn’t
‘ should read it and pray for
reincarnation,’ (Deluxe); ’The Breeders Box ends up like all the best things - completely out of control,’ (The Face). To whom the book is dedicated 'To J.H., who’s there at the end of the party.’ (Brian Donaldson)
l The Breeders Box is published in paperback by Abacus on Thu 2 Dec,
' priced £7.99.
and accepting a commission to go to i
Wrathlin, a tiny island off the Irish coast,
to suss out claims of the Second Coming
in the shape of a toddler called Christine.
Once again, Bateman combines the mundane and the fantastic fusing them together with mordant humour. His
appeal seems to lie in the fact that he '
captures the spirit of his home country and successfully distils it into his writing.
’There have been hundreds of books set i
in Northern Ireland dealing with the Troubles,’ says Bateman. 'They’re written by journalists who've been over here. They get their facts right, but never really capture the language or sense of humour.’ To his credit he manages to do both. (Dawn Kofie)
I Turbulent Priests is published on Mon 6 Dec.
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