SOCIAL SATIRE Victor Pelevin Babylon (Faber £9.99) it * it it:
Being lauded as the ’true heir of Gogol, Bulgakov and Dostoevsky' is high acclaim indeed, but Victor Pelevin is worthy of it. Baby/on is a sharp satire in the tradition of his illustrious literary predecessors, full of absurdism, political comment and philosophical messages.
Set shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, it traces the rise of a shopworker, Tatarsky, who discovers a talent for advertising which takes him to the top of the executive ladder. His campaigns, fuelled by hallucinogens, and guided by the spirit of Che Guevera, yield such unforgettable straplines as ’Do it yourself motherfucker!’ for Reebok; and ’Diamonds are not forever' for the Brothers Debirsien Funeral Parlour.
As Tatarsky’s new lifestyle begins to take over, the lines between reality and fantasy become blurred, until he is no longer sure of anything. Although it requires a little more effort than your average novel, the ultimate reward is well worth it. (Kirsty Knaggs)
Layer Cake (Duck Editions £9.99) * t i it *
A cautious, up-market coke dealer looking to escape gets dragged into some nasty underworld machinations. This debut piece of sweet-as-a-nut gangland politics is an absolute revelation that never takes itself half as seriously as the characters take themselves. Fast, furious and very funny, it has a control of mood and tone that belies this writer’s inexperience.
J.J. Connolly's influences are all American; this is basically Edward Bunker writ (and having it) large on the streets of East London, with equal ferocity and brutality. The author drops his cockney prose from a great height and lets it splatter a seemingly messy but ultimately tightly sprung charm on you. With its sharply drawn characters, even Mario Puzo could have learned a thing or two from this labyrinthine thriller.
It is by far and away the best piece of crime pulp fiction either side of the Atlantic since Seth Morgan's Homeboy and a Get Carter for the chemical generation. (Paul Dale)
’102 THE List 27 Apr—11 May 2000
Elizabeth Wurtzel The Bitch Rules (Quartet £6) 1H:
ii . *5 ‘
Elizabeth Wurtzel .. N. juer: j 5,
You can't help but imagine Sarah Jessica Parker's character from Sex And The City intoning Elizabeth Wurtzel’s straight-out-of-Cosmopo/itan magazine guidance, as this is very much the world weary single girl passing on pearls of wisdom to her sisters. The parts of this 30-chapter, pocket-sized advice shop that don't state the bloody obvious (chapters entitled 'See Lots Of Movies’ and ’Enjoy Your Single Years’) or patronise (’Try to Know What the Kids Are Up To’) are just truly ridiculous ('If All Else Fails, Talk To God’).
This would be quite witty if it wasn't for the rather sad fact that Wurtzel thinks women actually need a book like this. It can be viewed as an insult to the intelligence or simply amusing. It's not so much 'common sense advice for an uncommon life’ as cliched instructions for a cliched existence. But what would I know? I’m just a boy. (Mark Robertson)
SOCIAL FICTION John King
Human Punk (Cape £10) *‘kt‘k
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HUN AN I’ U R if.
Punk. Like the word, a short term phenomenon. What it evokes, however, still influences the music of today and in this story, the ethos of punk — the stolen cars, cut-throat Teds
and regular kickings — is what lingers in
the psyche of Joe Martin. A fifteen-year-old punk from Slough in the summer of 1977, he and his I .
friend Smiles are subjected to a beating
that changes the course of both their lives forever. Over the next 23 years, retribution and forgiveness fight for attention as he attempts to come to terms with what happened. Come 2000 and revenge is still in the mind and one night, as it all kicks off, the memories of the '77 battle come flooding back.
There are references to every punk band you could think of, and if ever a book deserved a soundtrack album, this is it. With Human Punk, you won’t get the feeling you've been cheated. (Aly Burt)
HISTORICAL FICTION Julie Myerson
Laura Blundy (Fourth Estate £15.99) **
Raped at fourteen, and left with child just as her family die and leave her homeless, Laura Blundy roams a romanticised version of Victorian London. Evil workhouses, dank prisons, tragic hansom cab accidents and gnarly leg amputations; it’s all there.
Clearly grounded in meticulous research, Julie Myerson’s follow up to the acclaimed romp Me And The Fat Man fictionally takes flight as it recounts Blundy's attempts to prove her free Spiritedness and be reunited with the child she was forced to give up.
What aims to be a haunting love story in the vein of Toni Morrison’s fusion of horror and beauty in Beloved,
i unfortunater misses its mark by some
distance. Myerson’s childlike approach to sex and violence attempts to unsettle, but instead borders on the ridiculous with remarks like 'I would not on any account let him spurt near my fanny'. (Catherine Bromley)
URBAN COMEDY Tim Lott
White City Blue (Penguin £6.99) ** *
Tim Lott’s debut novel garnered a heap :
of praise last year and went on to win the Whitbread First Novel Award. This modern comedy deals with a London estate agent, Frankie Blue who, as he approaches his 30th birthday, is forced to re-evaluate his past and priorities.
White City Blue starts slowly and not too strongly with a fairly routine Hornbyesque treatment of the standard ’mates versus women' dilemma. Picking up the pace, it becomes ever more powerful as the narrator dips into his childhood memories and realises how much of his past is built on lies and deceit.
Although some of the characters Lott depicts are irritatingly exaggerated, the climax of the book — where Frankie and his mates finally reveal their true selves — is beautifully paced and squirm-inducing. So, naturally Lott spoils it all with a tacked-on happy ending that, at best, is somewhat clumsy. (Doug Johnstone)
Love For Love (Pocketbooks £7.99) *ir‘k
It’s never an easy task to compile a
definitive guide of odes to love and the .
chosen works here will either strike home or leave you cold, as most anthologies inevitably do.
Edited by John Burnside and Alec Finlay, the writers approached were asked to submit one of their own pieces plus a poem of their choice from another scribe. So, we get intriguing combinations of Kate Clanchy with John Donne, Edwin Morgan and Emily Dickinson, while Ken Cockburn gives himself the unenviable task of going up against Goethe.
And there is an admirable attempt at exploring as many brands of adoration as possible. lan Stephen writes of his desire for bacon and liver; David Kinloch on the pleasures of beds; and Anne Macleod on the way love fades from memory.
Among the other current titles out now are Scottish haiku and short poems called Atoms Of Delight and proposals for a new Scottish Parliament, Without Day.
‘ (Brian Donaldson)
l CONTEMPORARY THRILLER
Andrew Greig When They Lay Bare (Faber £16.99) if *
Aﬁﬁiit‘li they lay lmi'c R [NW C; R El f; E
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E A prolific author, Andrew Greig has published several acclaimed books of
poetry, travel fiction chronicling his Himalayan expeditions and now this, his third novel.
Steeped in the history of the Borders, When They Lay Bare is a romantic thriller, exploring the naturalistic thesis put forward by Emile Zola, among others, that we are fated to repeat the sins of our fathers. This does not imply that the novel is in any way predictable. A tale of love and revenge, it follows the return of a young woman to an ancient estate to determine the truth about her mother's death.
Although told, at times, in too poetic a style and made confusing by constantly shifting narratorial viewpoints, Greig succeeds in building the novel to a dramatic finale. He achieves this by putting plenty of store in dramatic climaxes of the erotic kind and this, if nothing else, will bring him a large readership. (Catherine Bromley)
STAR RATINGS it it i i * Unmissable «k *"k * Very at H Wort a shot 1: t Below average * You've been warned