The Book Of Prefaces (Bloomsbury £35) Conceived sixteen years ago, the latest work by Glasgow’s best-loved author/painter has evidently spent some time inching its way through the pipeline. But then, Alasdair Gray’s plan to annotate the prefaces to every major work in the language was never going to be an elementary exercise.
The good news is, the finished product is gorgeous, uniquely enjoyable and well worth the wait. Originally optioned by Edinburgh’s Canongate Press, The Book Of Prefaces was eventually picked up by Bloomsbury with ’taster’ extracts appearing tantalisingly in the press throughout the 905. Seeing deadlines coming and going more often than the Bay City Rollers have reformed, Gray enlisted the services of fellow Scots writers (including A.L. Kennedy and James Kelman) as well as luminaries of Glasgow University’s English department, to supply further commentaries.
Compiled chronologically from the 7th century onwards, the book offers a comprehensive insight into the development of English literature and literary theory. But the anthology needn’t intimidate those with no prior interest. It's the kind of entertaining, glossy book that can be kept by the bed or in the bathroom and dipped into, starting with favourite authors and moving on from there.
’I always try to write about things in a way I would enjoy reading and seduce the reader in as many ways as possible,’ admits the author. ’I was very pleased when my sister told me I’d written a book about an important subject that she could actually read.’ From the cover in, the book is as aesthetically inviting as ever, Gray augmenting the text with his recognisable, witty illustrations.
Several of the collected prefaces are familiar (Mary Shelley’s account of the events that inspired Frankenstein and the musings on art that precede Wilde’s Dorian Gray are almost as famous as the novels themselves). Others have barely seen the light of
Too Fast To Live (Duck Editions £9.99)
'I’d occasionally feared I would be dead before it was finished'
publication (Charlotte Bronte's quietly vitriolic preface to Shirley, was originally considered bad publicity for the novel).
The commentaries are funny without being irreverent, quenching our thirst for gossipy biographical details and illuminating the texts while never intruding on the pleasures of the prefaces themselves. This collection is by no means the first of Gray’s books to have been nurtured over a long period. His celebrated debut Lanark was some 27 years in the making.
The author is now characteristically self-deprecating about his overnight success. ’My greatest sense of satisfaction was when Lanark was published. l'd occasionally feared I would be dead before it was finished. Critics at the time were very favourable about the book. Then, a fortnight later, I discovered they'd moved on to discuss other writers,’ he pauses, chuckling. ‘And a terrible depression swept over me.’ (Allan Radcliffe)
The Book Of Prefac es rs published on Mon 22 May. Alasdair Gray ‘.'.//// read at Glasgow University Bookshop, Glasgow, Thu 25 May, Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, Wed 31 May
knc)\.'~.3edge of the former rshe has a degree in Old And Middle English from Oxford> with an interest in the
Tragic heroes, lost empires and stomach-churning violence populate Bidisha's second novel
110 THE “ST l i 2‘) '."a',’ 2000
'Gtins are great, they are very beautiful machines' Bidisha is confessing a soft spot for arms over her terror of the supernatural 'l'm easily spooked, though, if I see a one-second clip of The Exorcist, l have to sleep \.'.’|ll) the light on, but I'm not squeamish about real Violence ’
Let's hope her readers are similarly thick-skinned The brutality ll) her second novel Too Fast To live is almost too (lose to the bones for comfort Flesh is constantly l)(‘|’l() subjected tc) the worst excesses of human cruelty in the name of protecting your corner in a land where survrval ol the shittest is the mantra
The book's cultural roots lie in everything from Camelot to the Krays
and Bidisha has married her
gangsters' playground 'I liked the idea of the rise and fall of an empire and the idea of a tragic hero who has lll\.'ll(‘(l his fate '
Bidisha has been writing professionally for seven years =‘she is 22> having had her work published in the likes of the NME and [)a/ecl And (on/used Despite this remarkable track record, she is almost ready to accept her own literary late "There's probably enough people in the world trying to \‘crite, I don't think ! need to add to the literary poo that's swilling iound the world ' Read loo Fast To l/l’t‘, and discover someone being way too hard on themselves iBr‘ian Donaldson)
loo last lo l/i/e rs published on Thu l8 Maj
Putting debut novelists under the microscope. This issue: William Brandt Who he? William Brandt was born in London to New Zealand parents some 29 years ago. He moved to the land of his mother and father for his upbringing and has also resided in Australia, Britain and Russia As well as writing for stage and telly, he has tried his hand at acting, havrng studied at the National Institute Of Dramatic Art in Sydney, before nabbing himself appearances in TV’s Short/and Street and Jane Campion's An Ange/At My Tab/e He is married to Cecile and has three lovely children His debut It's called Alpha Male and tells five stories capturing what it's like being a bloke in the post-feminist era. The men he writes of in tales such as ’Rat' and ‘The Jean-Paul Sartre Expei‘ienc'e' are caught somewhere in a middle ground between Gen X and suburbia They are crushed and confused, yet oddly cheerful. The collection won him hrs country's 1999 Montana Book Award for the best. debut First lines test 'I spent. all last winter I was walking around in a pair of those you know those kung fu shoes just made of flimsy cloth and all falling apart wrth a big hole in the toe and my feet would get soaked in all the puddles and all cold and wet', (‘His Father’s Shoes'> 'l was at breakfast in the lobby of l_'Hotel Occ rdental, when I picked up a copy of Paris Match "SHARON STONE. LES HOlvllleS QUE J'Allle", saicl the headline I nearly choked on my croissant', i'The Jean- Paul Sartre Experience" Recommendations corner Fellow Antipodean author Emily Perkins describes the tales as ’a brutal and very funny update on the male psyc he'. Furthermore, they are 'unexpecteclly movrng’ and breathtaking in their psychological detail' rBrian Donaldson) Alpha Male rs published by Cape on Thu 25 May priced [IO
uiilliam brarilit r,