P-P Harnett ed
The Gay Times Book Of Short Stories (Gay Times £9.95) at it it *
BCJUK OI- SHOPI SIC/RIF”.
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The experience of reading yOur ’average’ gay anthology tends to feel a little like haVing ainyl nitrate spat in your eyes by an extremely poor Oscar Wilde impersonator. It is to P-P Harnett's credit then, that he has managed to collate such an essentially superb collection Of 31 tender, strange and unique tales.
Michael Arditti's 'The Loyal Wife’ kicks things Off, the achineg painful story of a disgraced MP's decline as seen through his Wife’s eyes. Nicholas Blincoe's ’Uncle Deborah' prOVIdes some vaudeVille comedy while Edinburgh’s Chris Ferguson takes Thomas Mann to Calton Hill in the excellent ’Millennium Bug Cairry-Oot'. Meanwhile, the editor’s own darkly tWisted tale Of Manchester sWimming baths, scallies and narCissism is breathtaking.
We’ll ignore the few turkeys as there is tOO much good writing here, With fine contributions from Tom DaVidson, Christopher Fowler, Antonio Pasolini, Tony Peake and Stewart Who? This is simply the best Homothology Out there at the moment. (Paul Dale)
TRAVEL ADVENTURE Lucy Irvine Faraway (Doubleday £16.99) ir it it
Lucy erine's bestselling Castaway was as much an account of her stormy relationship With overpowering 'husband' Gerald Kingsland as it was a tale of surVival against the elements on remote Tuin Island. In her latest book, she has discovered an eQuaIIy unusual human-interest story on which to pin her exotic travel writing.
Faraway begins by bringing us up to date With the writer's life post- Castaway. Eighteen years on, Wine and her three young sons are inVited to spend a year in the Solomon Islands by Diana Hepworth, octogenarian matriarch Of a post-colonial famin inhabiting tiny Pigeon Island.
Though IrVine’s observations occasionally verge on the banal and flaky (particularly when referring to
108 THE lIST 30 Nov-14 Dec 2000
matters of the heart), her spirit Of . adventure is infectious, her talent for storyteliing impressive and she writes honestly, both abOut herself and her surroundings. Particularly compelling is her response to the Hepworth saga, a fasCinating tale of empire building, petty power and awful tragedy
FASHION COLLECTION Judith Watt ed
The Penguin Book Of 20th Century Fashion Writing (Penguin £8.99) *ttt
Like a handbag, this relatively slim volume is home to a deceptively large number of items. In this case, those items aren’t lipstick or a spare pair of tights, but rather a collection of literary excerpts, revealing the world of fashion through the eyes of the century’s greatest writers.
Grouping the writing under headings like 'Clothes And Sexuality’ and 'Youth Style’, Judith Watt casts Off the hushed tones of the fashionistas, and allows us to pore over legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland's recollections of her I930s wardrobe, ViVidly contrasting With Bret Easton Ellis’ hedonistic world of deSigners and models in G/amorama.
By draWing on classic fiction, Watt allows humour, Opinion and imagery to infuse this collection. The contraceptive-holding belts in Huxley’s Brave New Wor/d, and the innocently beguiling clothing of Nabokov’s Lolita tell us more about the world of fashion than a sackful of style mags.
CONTEMPORARY NOVELLA Charlie Boxer
The Cloud Of Dust (Jonathan Cape EIO) t
Imagine a bad 19th century romantic novelist of the kind parodied in Austen’s Northanger Abbey, getting together With Walter Scott and a solitary adolescent Joy DiviSion fan to describe the impact of first love and you’ll pretty much have the measure of Charlie Boxer’s debut.
Though set in contemporary Edinburgh, residents would have a hard time recognismg Boxer’s dark city of Burns-reciting winos, ’anti-
Libertarian CaIVinist’ students, ’keen,
senSitive' fowk and, WOrst of all ’that
brand of Scotch contentment that hangs just above desperation' Where
are the snops, the pubs and clubs, the
happening arts scene, The List?
Taking the form of letters to the protagonists mother and best friend, Boxer’s novella is ostensibly the tale Of a diffident student’s unrequited passion. Rather presumptuously, the author strings out this slight premise to include gushes of Wide-eyed, fey meditations on the nature of love. This is all worryingly intense and humOurless, but merCifuIly short at 150 pages. (Allan Radcliffe)
' HISTORICAL FICTION
Bettany's Book (Sceptre £16.99)
Thomas Keneally’s reputation for
humanising great historical crises is, unquestionably, of immense value in a sooety where cold hard fact so often
renders mass suffering a matter for the
statistioans. Keneally’s impresswe ability as a researcher gives this novel a
, sense of harsh reality that, at times,
succeeds in portraying situations of
political upheaval With a historian's authority.
Perhaps due to its immediacy, it’s
: actually the story of Prim Bettany, an
aid worker in the Sudan, that most
fascmates, rather than the
accompanying drawn-out exploration
of her ancestor’s journal as an early white Australian colonist.
Bringing to mind the undeniable
achievement that is the Booker Prize-
Winning Schindler’s Ark, Keneally’s
talent for exploring political injustice Without resorting to detached social documentation or sentimental two-
dimensionality is this novel's greatest
strength. Bettany’s Book represents
another literary landmark in the career
Of an extremely important novelist. (Olly Lassman)
L LOVE LETTERS
Donny O'Rourke ed
Ae Fond Kiss (Mercat Press £9.99)
Star-crossed lovers, Robert Burns and Agnes McLehose, having hitherto
inspired popular recognition only in the
naming of an Edinburgh tea-room, are
; apparently to star in ’a major film'. Hence, I suppose, this nicely-produced
edition of their letters, which is Slmply the old edition appended to a sparky new introduction from Donny O'Rourke.
The big screen can make a meal out Of the most meagre pickings, which is just as well, for this correspondence leaves a great deal to the imagination Couched in flowery language and hedged around With moral and religious declarations, the love affair hardly steams off the page
Burns, laid up in Edinburgh With a wounded leg, seems to be filling a dull i week or two With this dalliance while Agnes — after a spirited, protO-feminist beginning — soon slips into primness.
Absence gives Burns‘ letters more fire, While Agnes suffers the disapprovai of sooety. As to Whether they did or didn't: who cares? (Julie Morrice)
I Ken MacLeod
Cosmonaut Keep (Orbit £16.99) tttt
’ Ken MacLeOd is a master at tWisting
two seemingly disparate sCience ‘ fictions into a coherent plot. Here, he 1
. uses his favoured deVice to bring a
political thriller set in a near-future
. Edinburgh, together With a
romantically-inclined space Opera
light years away.
The result, jumping easily between
' strands, is a highly readable novel, . marred occasionally by MacLeOd’s
almost nerdish delight in colourfully obtrusive language. The near-future strand is particularly entertaining,
with a convinCingly chaotic political
backdrop against which software
manager Matt, discovers his current job was originated by alien sources.
It's a race against time and
governments to use this information. . But the book’s meat is the start of What MacLeOd promises Will be a
new SF sequence, with plenty Of
fanCiful species and qUirky social ideas. He still has a way to go, but his logic is sound and has the
makings Of a sequence to rival lain M. Banks’ utopian Culture in its scope for invention. (Thom Dibdin)
Continued on page 110
STAR RATINGS “H: ** Outstanding * t t * Recommended t t * Worth a try it * SO-so sir Poor