DETECTIVE FICTION Alexander McCall
Tears Of The Giraffe (Polygon £8.99) ****
Alexander McCall Smith H E G I RAF FE
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This is the second novel from Alexander McCall Smith about the
formidable Precious Ramotswe and
her No. I Ladies' Detective Agency, the only one of its kind in Botswana. This time her cases include a man missing for over ten years, a butcher with a straying wife, and a maid out to make trouble for Precious' husband-to—be, Mr J.L.B. Matekoni. However, the storyline of this novel is almost inCIdental; it’s the writing style which makes Tears Of The Giraffe such a Joy to read. McCall Smith is a natural born storyteller, filling his prose with rhythm and repetition, so that it resembles an epic poem rather
than a novel.
Botswana’s landscape, people and customs are brought vividly to life by his powerfully descriptive prose and the Whole book is treated with a quiet
: passion and a |0Ving attention to
detail. Charming, qurrky and timeless. (Kirsty Knaggs)
SOCIAL DRAMA Ha Jin Waiting (Heinemann £10) in“: ink
In a remote, rural provmce of post- revolutionary China, a doctor leaves both his Village and arranged marriage to work in a far-off hospital. Life is heaVin regimented there With the sexes segregated, yet he falls in love. But before the two — Lin Kong and Manna
Wu — can even share an embrace, let
alone a bed, he Will have to divorce his
i Wife on one of his yearly Visits home.
There is an elegant, comfortable ease to Ha Jin's deceptively simple prose style. It is like an oriental painting, in which the couple's eighteen-year wait creates a silhouette of the passing years
, for the Chinese nation. Like the insects 3 which march their seemingly free, but
still predetermined way across the feet of every scene, the characters’ free Will has been lost in a triple maze; love,
loyalty and the Party subjugate all else
i to their Will. A book to savour and i delight in. (Thom Dibdin)
110 THE lIST 25 May—8 Jun 2000
' Charles Bukowski
Ham On Rye (Rebel Inc EIO) *****
A novel about finding a voice, Ham On Rye is a Bildungsroman of sorts, explaining exactly how Charles Bukowski became the poet laureate of Skid Row, via his alter-ego Henry Chinaski.
It’s here that he treats, in a serious and extended fashion, a number of issues that were left unexamined in the earlier novels: relations With and between his parents, dealings With the social world of his peers and Views on sooal class and politics. Desperately honest, often movrng and extremely humorous, Ham On Rye charts the tWisted childhood of a sooal misfit, plagued With bOiIs and acne. As if that wasn't enough, he bears the brunt of his father’s suffering during the Depression.
An impressive coup by Rebel Inc, this edition marks the first UK publication of Bukowski’s seminal work and includes a speCiaIly commissioned introduction by Roddy Doyle. (Catherine Bromley)
Andrew Crumey Mr Mee (Picador £9.99) at * 1r t
It ,M‘va . L“ W
Andrew Crumey's latest novel tackles weighty topics but treats its dense SUbJQCI matter With lightness of touch and exquisite use of language. The narrative of Mr Mee swrtches between the world of 18th century literature and modern day academia With surprising ease.
Two French copyists — Ferrand and Minard — find themselves involved in a murder in Paris after coming into possession of an encyclopaedia which may be a lost guide to an alternative universe. In modern Britain, two academics separately attempt to find out about this m/thical work, and all the stories gradually shed light on each other.
The resulting plot makes the head spin With the wealth of ideas on
show, as the lines between fact and
fiction and science and literature become ever more blurred. All of this is safely negotiated however, thanks
to Crumey’s often hilarious comic sense and brilliantly absurd characters. (Doug Johnstone)
HISTORICAL ROMANCE Michele Roberts
The Looking Glass (Virago £15.99) * ‘k *
b e r t s
The Looking Glass
Creating a world of roguish writers and dreamy dressmakers, black-clad Widows and orphaned servants, this novel is an attempt to take the French provmcial novel out of the hands of its traditionally male masters (not to mention the BBC costume department).
Set by the sea in Flaubert c0untry Just before World War I, it tells the stories of a housemaid, a governess and a dressmaker all in love With the. same man: a bohemian yet self- serVing poet With What a latter day Bridget Jones might call a commitment problem.
At her best, Michele Roberts can produce poetic writing that conveys the claustrophobic lives and limited options of smalltown women. The dual nationality of much of her writing English in its hurndrum focus, French in its sensuality — works well. But this book seems a little too schematic, too self-conscious to be entirely successful. Probany best in paperback for a quiet seaside holiday. (Morra Jeffrey)
EX STENTIAL DRAMA Michel Houellebecq
Atomised (Heinemann EI 2.99) 1: ‘k ‘k
With a superCilious gallic shrug and a soupcon of eXistential nausea, Iinchel Houellebecq gets down to his self- appointed task of dismantling Western society. From religion to scientific rationalism, the cult of youth to consumerism, he tears it down to its smallest constituents.
In this story of two half-brothers who are trapped as indiViduals denied of self-Will at the end of the 20th century, Houellebecq’s main targets are the failed radicals of Paris '68. His main weapon is a sordid mix of onanism, knee-Jerk right-Wing politics and much love-free humping as a molecular biologist manipulates genes and a failed Lothario spurts flaccidly
While they both strive to rid life of meaning.
But even though he entertains With his pornographic discord and is sharply up-to-date With modern mores, Houellebecq ultimater unconVinces. For all its failings, sooety is always gorng to be greater than the sum of its atomised parts,
HISTORICAL FICTION James Robertson
The Fanatic (Fourth Estate £10) ****
Is the Edinburgh fanatic here a Hibee or a Jambo? Well, neither actually, as the debut novel from James Robertson is, in fact, a piece of epic historical fantasy and fact, With the plot's tWists and turns reminiscent of the dark
alleyways and all-enveloping closeness of Edinburgh’s Old Town.
Using real characters from the dark ages of corrupt government, Witchcraft and persecution of non- conformists lends The Fanatic an air of history textbook. However, like your favourite teacher at school, Robertson has you gripped in a late 17th century Edinburgh world so realistic you can almost smell it.
Looking back on these times is Andrew Carlin, the new ghost on an Old Town tour. As he delves deeper into the history of the character he plays, past and present begin to mingle With a sinister ease that creates a wonderfully dark picture of betrayal and redemption. (Aly Burt)
COMEDY THRILLER Nicholas Blincoe
The Dope Priest (Sceptre £6.99) * 1k * Nicholas Blincoe’s enjoyany light, but ultimately deadly serious, semi-thriller begins unpromisingly, threatening for the first few pages to spin a self- consCiously hip tale of hash smokers and smugglers. lVIercrfully, the bars matches as we Join the protagonists reconvening in late-90$ Jerusalem for a far more urgent story, unfolding measuredly against a conVincingly rendered snapshot of that locale and held together by the deadly charge of the Israeli-Palestinian situation.
The author of Acid Casua/s and