The Stars’ Tennis Balls (Hutchinson £16.99) a: *

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If anyone could flaunt the rule that comedians make crap authors, one would hope Stephen Fry was your man PerspicaCious, Wickedly imaginative, possessed of a voluminous vocabulary, and not Hugh Laurie. Perfect. Alas, the Tall Man promises much but delivers little more than a vengeful Shawshank Redemption as might have been hacked out by Tom Sharpe, for heaven’s sake.

Ned is a silver spooned but callow seventeen-year-old, charmed yet doomed by his good looks, good fortune and (up till now) good luck. Then fate intervenes With some aSSistance from a few public school 'friends', a dying IRA terrorist and a secret serVice agent With bad intentions. And before Our ingenue can say ’but my father’s a cabinet Minister', Ned is up poop creek minus a canoe or a clue. Until that is he meets. well, you get the picture. This might do for Ben Elton but by this author's standard, it’s rather weak (Rodger Evans)


Margaret Elphinstone The Sea Road (Canongate £9.99)

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The Sea Road is the adventures of Gudrid of Iceland, the farthest travelled Viking woman in those cold-bloodied old times as told to a Catholic priest from her nunnery in Italy.

Margaret Elphinstone has created a remarkable facsimile of Gudrid, a character at once paSSionate and deeply spiritual; it is a trick often attempted in historical fiction but rarely succeeds. Only one other book springs readily to mind and that is Margaret Yourcenour's remarkable Book Of Hadrian. Like Yourcenour, Elphinstone brilliantly fills out her Violent world With flesh and brio in breathtaking detail but never at the expense of plot.

Gudrid is a great gUide and her storytelling skills are thankfully second to none. Her Viking men are almost superhuman, her landscapes pure and her understanding of the ultimate sense of ambition and futility that

106 THE LIST S--l9 Oct 2000

. powers every generation in its time is often startling. Forget Seamus

Heaney's new adaptation of Beowulf, ; this is much more fun. (Paul Dale)


Snake (Serpent's Tail £12.99) ** t

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After depicting her experiences in the Warhol Factory in her first book

Swimming Underground, Mary

Woronov shifts the action of her fictional debut to the West Coast. A peculiar mix of on-the-run thriller, psychological drama and skewed love story, we commence in Los Angeles, a barren hole, filled With seedy lowlifes parading themselves as artists.

Sandra finds herself drawn into a world scarred by drugs, S&M, and the fall-out of punk. This SWiftly shifts to an on-the-road Sprint when she hooks up with enigmatic crim Luke. The uneven narrative shifts between Sandra's daydreams, her past and the ongomg story, which renders the initial setting of the LA scene pointless.

You can almost see the film adaptation taking shape on page, until you realise it has already been done With Tony Scott’s True Romance. Though, to be fair, this has a more sinister edge and deeper, if not wholly convincing, psychological exploration. (Mark Robertson)

GANGSTER DRAMA Anthony Bourdain

Gone Bamboo (Canongate £10) at * ‘k *


Anthony Bourdain

Jimmy ’Pazz' Calabrese wants Charlie Wagons dead. within just a few


Down Under (Doubleday £16.99) ****

Having come under the scrutiny of the world's cheekiest writer, Europe, America and Britain must have breathed a collective sigh of

relief when Australia was chosen as : his latest target. You could just imagine belligerent Bruces and

scathing Sheilas across the

, continent gearing up for a battle,

knowing that Bill Bryson was on his

way to dissect their proud land.

The thing is, though, Bryson adores the place. Absolutely loves it. The Opera House is 'a splendid edifice'; he ‘likes' the Outback and his 'heart belongs' to Sydney Harbour. This all may sound fairly

tame but Bryson is the man who

has described Wales as 'a holiday hell with endless ranks of prison-camp

caravan parks standing in fields in the middle of a lonely wind-beaten

nowhere’; while he has said of the Blackpool Illuminations: 'pretty breath- taking, I suppose, if you had never seen electricity in action.‘

The thing about a Bill Bryson literary voyage, is that it may well be gut-

. wrenchingly funny, but it's highly educational, too. Don’t know about you,

but I certainly wasn’t aware that one of their Prime Ministers was swept to

his death during a quiet stroll on the beach or that the population amounts

to a puny nineteen million or that Errol Flynn came from antipodean stock.

For Bryson, this is proof positive that the country has been savagely under-


An under-reported, under-valued land 5

And it is certainly one of the most stereotyped; Germaine Greer and Nick : Cave have shown us a new side to the Aussie lifestyle. A traveller from

: Iowa can be credited for the same. (Brian Donaldson)

I Down Under is out now. See Book Events.

sentences of Anthony Bourdain’s latest novel, you’re gomg to be reading in a

New York accent. It’s impossible not to,

as his cast of Italian gangsters (Paulie, Donnie and Ritchie to name Just a few) crackle across the page With their fast talk and even faster trigger fingers.

But the bad guys aren’t the focus. It’s two even badder guys, Henry and his Wife Frances (both assassms) who steal the show. Shacked up in an island hideaway, their peace is broken when one of Henry’s botched jObS moves to the neighbourhood under a witness protection programme.

Roll on a vividly painted not of Caribbean life, where Bourdain’s dialogue-driven action proves

completely absorbing. Even though

Henry shoots people for a living, you can’t help but root for him. Like a good meal, the memory of Gone Bamboo Will linger on. (LOUisa Pearson)


Golden Deeds (Picador £12.99) ****

Patrick Mercer is a yOung British pyromaniac in a coma, unconsciously recovering his senses and his past. In New Zealand, Ruth and Malcolm struggle to cope With the disappearance of their daughter. Their nanny, the insular but inquisitive Colette, receives a letter from Patrick, a man she has no recollection of.

These protagonists co-habit the pages

of Golden Deeds, slip back and

forward along the time streams, and move through their interwoven lives, lonely but rarely alone. Behind them shift friends, relatives, and the dark

figure of a paedophile who may never be caught.

Catherine Chidgey's compassionate novel takes engrossing diversions through subjects as varied as calligraphy and the mechanics of Meccano collection. Rooted in the bizarre mundanity of suburban life, this is a powerful and moving study of the vagaries of chance, the pain of loss, and the ache of what Will never be. Understated yet gripping.

(James Smart)

C: AT H E R l N E H l E Y (,'.././... .‘./\..../.

Continued over page


iii'k * Unmissable

1i * t * Very ood i 'k t * Wort a shot

it * Below average

xi: You’ve been warned