SHORT STORY COLLECTION The City Life Book Of Manchester Short
Ra Page ed (Penguin £7.99) *‘k‘k‘k The first major gathering of original fiction from Manchester is a vibrant
collection, with contributors ranging
from the relatively unknown (Cath Staincliffe, Karline Smith) to the established (Val McDermid, Shelagh Delaney) and the unexpected (Mark E. Smith).
The same breadth of scope is apparent in the stories themselves -' while there is, unsurprisingly, a healthy dose of down and dirty urban grit, that's by no means the only style represented here. Jeff Noon provides feverish formalism in ’Blackey, Crumpsall, Harpurhey, Saturn (Cobralingus Remix)’. whilst
Northern uproar: Manchester Short Stories
‘Acts Of Vengeance: One Two Three Four' by Gareth Creer and 'T he Lightweight Trigger' by A.N. Other are dark, violent crime fantasies. Meanwhile, the more intimate side of human affairs is explored in Jackie Kay's poignant vignette 'Timing' and David Bowker’s daft-but-endearing 'The Joy Of Sexism'. Highlights include poignant evocations of childhood by Andrea Ashworth (’Mr Moretti's Superswirl’) and Livi Michael ('Robinson Street'), and mournful tales of romantic mismatches by RP. Hartnett ('Sad Cunt‘) and Heather Leach (’T he Afghan Coat'). 'No Place Like', the fictional debut of The Fall's maverick frontman Smith, is another treasure — a brief, brashly eloquent three-way character sketch in the Joycean tradition. Inevitany there are less experienced contributors and stylistic near misses; indeed, some of the stories are cringingly amateurish. But consistency is not the point of the exercise and, as a showcase for writers new and familiar, a collage of styles and a composite portrait of a culturally and socially varied community. this anthology does itself and its city of origin proud.
BOOKS REVIEWS continued
HISTORICAL FICTION The Dress Lodger
Sheri Holman (Sceptre £10) it i
'. " .‘Lifiéﬁ‘.
1 .3 a
Can a native Virginian now living in Brooklyn convincingly evoke 19th century Sunderland? Perhaps. Unfortunately, this novel's author has neither the insight nor the descriptive gifts to bridge the gap.
The Dress Lodger is a terribly self-
conscious attempt at the kind of smart,
modern historical novel that Angela Carter could have knocked out in her sleep, the kind that casts a cynically contemporary eye over the squalors of the past and then flourishes them with a silver lining of fantasy.
Though fairly inventive, Holman’s story of streetwalkers, cholera and graverobbing is basically little more
113 THE “31' 2—16 Dec 1999
than a pantomime with a cast of overdressed grotesques. Her style (’Please, dear friend, keep us in suspense no longer. Is she lovely? Plain? Young? Old? . . . Are we to go through this novel in the company of some commonplace Sunderland slut?’) is desperately intrusive, and burdens the narrative with a weight it cannot support. (HM)
GLOBAL THRILLER Shadow Watch:
Tom Clancy & Martin Greenberg (Penguin £5.99) at
Based on the Red Storm Entertainment computer game, the question about this book is whether it works as a
novel. Admittedly, it's pretty formulaic stuff, with a bunch of goodies ~ a NASA scientist, a media magnate and a reformed ex-cop among them — running around trying to defend a space mission from the baddies.
Nothing fundamentally wrong with that, of course, and the book contains some tenser written fight sequences and strong action moments. It's just that the only motivation for the characters seems to be to try.and get to the next fight, which makes a nonsense of the given scenario and characterisations.
And besides being pap on the novel front, it lets down the game's fans by failing to give them a realistic future environment within which to create
their own fantasies. It is noticeable that
nowhere does Tom Clancy own up to having written this; he just thought up the idea. (TD)
HISTORICAL FICTION Nero's Heirs
Allan Massie (Sceptre £16.99) * i i *
AD69. The emperor Nero is dead and the Roman Empire has been thrown
into chaos. No fewer than four
emperors gain power briefly before falling to their successors. The events
i of this turbulent time are narrated by
Scaurus, a childhood friend of the future emperor Domitian, in a series of
5 letters to the historian Tacitus. Now
living in exile, his account is both subjective and objective simultaneously, removed from the events by both time and distance.
It is true to say that, to a certain extent, all histories are a form of fiction. The editing and embellishing that go into any historical account are unavoidable. What Allan Massie has done is continue this tradition, albeit taking it to the extreme. His novel is based on real events, involving real characters who are fleshed out via the most vivid of imaginations; a practice which brings this bloody period of Rome’s history gloriously to life. (KK)
SlBLlNG DRAMA Forspoken
Ajay Close (Vintage £6.99) ** * * Tracy Malleus is intelligent, competent and confident. She is also cursed, or so she begins to believe when her life suddenly, inexplicably starts to come apart. Career, relationship, finances, home; every area of her life becomes
dogged with misfortune, until she can no longer trust the rationalist instincts which have served her so well until now. The bad luck coincides with the return of Tracy’s younger sister, after seventeen years away, bringing her own version of what Tracy always
; believed to be their happy, if unusual,
chﬂdhood. This haunting portrait of a woman slowly losing her place in the world is
handled with extraordinary perception
and sensitivity. Set in modern day Glasgow, the turbulent cityscape painted by Ajay Close accurately reflects Traql’s state of mind as everything she ever believed in is
stripped away, leaving her helpless and 1 alone. Close's second novel is j compelling reading, guaranteed to
leave a lasting impression. (KK)
ESSAY COLLECTION The Cost Of Living Arundhati Roy (Flamingo £5.99) * it
THE COST 9"..'-'.V'N_G
Delhi architect Arundhati Roy blazed her way onto the literary landscape in 1997 when The God Of Small Things snapped up the Booker Prize and built a solid foundation for future writing glory. So, you have to wonder why she has chosen to publish a couple of essays about nuclear politics and the social affects of dam-building which are more akin to student ranting — 'thank you, Government of the US. of A. We’re deeply, deeply grateful’ — than the insights of an internationally renowned author.
There is little doubt that Roy is a writer with coursing passion and an imagination which floods onto every page. In The Cost Of Living, however, this passion and imagination has an emptiness which seems only to be fulfilled when instilled into characters. Cramming the vastness of one colossal country, its political situation and dangerous future into 160 pages shortchanges both the reader and the writer. (BD)
REVIEWERS THIS ISSUE:
Thom Dibdin, Brian Donaldson, Rodger Evans, Moira Jeffrey, Ally Hardy, Kirsty Knaggs, Hannah McGilI
STAR RATINGS 5;: ' *ttrk Outstanding **** Recommended and: Worth a try it it So-so * Poor