Ben Rice

Pobby And Dingan (Jonathan Cape £8.99) * a: t 'k

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Recently published by Granta magazine in their 'Australia' issue, Ben Rice's heart-warming novella has since made a tremendous impact on the literary world.

Narrated by eleven-year-old Ashmol Williamson, this simple tale revolves around the disappearance of his younger sister’s imaginary friends, Pobby and Dingari, in the small Australian opal mining town of Lightning Ridge. Initially a non-believer, Ashmol iS Slowly but aSSuredIy brought round to his Sibling’s escapist outlook as he rallies the town together to search for the missmg children. In order to find the elusive pair, he realises that he must believe in them and this enables the prematurely cynical lad to recapture his childlike innocence.

Comparable in style and substance to Sherwood Anderson's classic bildungsroman Winesburg, Ohio, mainly due to its naturalistic outlook and vivid use of caricatured grotesques, Ben Rice has nonetheless crafted a deeply sensmve and succinct work of fiction. (Catherine Bromley)


Dreamworld (HarperCollins £5.99) at t t

Mrs Jonathan Ross (for it is she) has obviously been to far too many themeparks. Her Dreamworld is an eerily believable creation, from the packs of brats that roam its

manufactured streets to the tunnels which weave beneath its surface.

Through these tunnels walk the security guards and off-duty mascots, fag in one hand, cartoon head in the other.

When one such performer is found dead next to the man that killed her, officer Sylvia Avery is sent to investigate. Torn between her loyalty to Dreamworld and her desire to expose its increasineg rotten core, Avery runs from clue to clue as the c0rpse count mounts. Through it all, Goldman's writing IS addictive and occasionally, profoundly Witty.

Yet, all too often she laboriously tells what she c0uld simply show, and her

112 THE [IST 2 16 Nov 2000

chapter cliffhangers are often too mechanical to be truly gripping. Like the parks it describes, Dreamworld has little substance beneath its glossy surface. (James Smart)

POL TICAL FICTION Gillian Slovo Red Dust (Virago £15.99) ***

What is the best way to get a social point across? Tell it straight with the facts coming right down the line or dress it up as literature to get the reader hooked in to your 'story’. Gordon Burn succeeded with controversial brilliance in his retelling of the Fred and Rosemary West atrocities in Happy Like Murderers and Gillian Slovo has attempted a similar effect, with names and places altered, for her analysis of South Africa’s post- Apartheid trauma.

Told in the style of a page-turning thriller (and boy, do those pages flick by), Red Dust sees victims and perpetrators coming face to face before the Truth And Reconciliation Commission as our legal heroine makes a painful return to South Africa.

Unlike the gut-wrenching and visceral 'reality’ portrayed by Burn, Slovo has opted for casual quasi-caricatures to get her notions across. But you can hardly blame the author with such stock types of 'good’ and ’evil’ roaming her homeland.

(Brian Donaldson)


The Night Listener (Bantam £16.99) *ittt

A few pages into The Night Listener, you begin to wonder whether it should be filed under 'autobiography’ rather than ’fiction’. Finding similarities between Armistead Maupin and his characters is nothing new; Michael in Tales Of The City was nothing if not a younger version of the author.

But here we have a gay man in his mid-SOs, the toast of San Francisco’s literary world, devastated by the end of a long-term relationship. Sound familiar? But then all good authors draw on what they know, before fashioning it into a story.

And what a st0ry this is. When Gabriel Noone befriends an abused thirteen-year-old boy, a mystery


Elmore Leonard Pagan Babies (Viking £16.99) * t t

From Hollywood showbiz to

genocide in Rwanda, Elmore Leonard keeps his readers guessing even after hacking out 36 novels, many more short stories and a bunch of screenplays. Pagan babies is what Father Terry Dunn calls the children orphaned during the mass extermination of Tutsls by Hutus in the mid-90s in Africa, where he's been stationed for the past five years. ' Leonard doesn't leave the Irish- American man of the cloth on foreign soil for long though.

Following a somewhat over-zealous

reaction to a killer's confession, Father Dunn returns to his home town, Detroit (also home turf for Leonard). There, he hooks up with

Below-par but still effortlessly good

his lawyer brother to clear an old tax evasion charge and his brother's ex- convict-turned-stand-up comedienne colleague with whom Dunn attempts to rip off the local mob while raising money for these pagan babies.

Not straightforward crime fiction as such, then; Leonard has long since graduated from such genre trappings. You're constantly caught off-guard by his plotting, which builds from his characters, none of which ever fill stereotypical roles. With so many years and words under his belt, Leonard's writing now comes across as effortlesst good though his stringent research methods would indicate otherwise. The easy way he slips between first and third person, using the former to develop the plot without ever sounding

contrived is ever more impressive.

Ultimately. Pagan Babies only rates three stars in comparison with his other books. Against everyone else you can add another star. (Miles Fielder) I Pagan Babies is published on Thu 2 Nov.

unfolds that questions everything he believes in. A cantankerous father and

sceptical ex-lover play supporting roles.

As usual, Maupin’s excruciating habit of hooking you in only to drift off into an unrelated topic prevails. But like a good aerobics teacher, he knows exactly when to heat us up or cool us down. (Kelly Apter)


Crustaceans (Sceptre £12.99) *tkk

‘3, Ali-u“;- ~



A fatalistic potter recalls the dysfunction of his early relationship with his sculptor father and the events that led to the death of his own son. Somewhere between repellent self- help therapy books and true madness lies a tiny fiction genre that deals with barren, cold lives spiralling into stultifying depression before finding some sort of thwarted redemption.

Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar was obviously a landmark here but it is really the Scottish writer Ron Butlin with his tale of brandy-drinking despair, The Sound Of My Voice, who set the contemporary benchmark for these small excursions into the heart of darkness.

Crustaceans is good enough to stand next to Butlin’s masterpiece. Every page reeks of clay, sea salt and rolled tobacco burning between stained, shaking hands. Eloquent and very sad, Andrew Cowan writes with a simplicity and honesty that will leave you pale. A painful tale about the death of destiny's child. (Paul Dale)

SHORT STORY COLLECTION Rick Moody Demonology (Faber £9.99) at t t

The title of this anthology refers not to Buffy-style nasties, but to psychological demons and the effect they have on the lives of the possessed. Rick Moody exposes the soft white underbelly of America by sketching the lives of a cross-section of its inhabitants, then proceeds to slit it open with his sharp perception, probing around in the dark mess and pulling out observations on modern Stateside life.

His stories range from three-page snapshots to more substantial 100- page narratives. He also experiments with a variety of different formats, one of the most successful of which is in the form of liner notes to a ten-volume set of cassettes depicting the life of one man.

Although his subject matter is on the dark side, the book is saved from bleakness by the wicked black humour