Jonathan Lethem

As She Climbed Across The Table (Faber £9.99) Having been named as the only author in prestigious American organ Newsweek’s 100 most influential folks for the 21st century, you’d think Jonathan Lethem would be in a state of grace. On the contrary, he suffers a fit of embarrassment whenever he is reminded of his placing. ’The arts and entertainment quadrant is basically me and a lot of black millionaires like Tiger Woods and Chris Rock. I just wish there was some income averaging programme on the list and then I would be very happy.’

Writing the kind of books Lethem produces seems more likely to make the author as content as his readers. He is an advocate of ’genre- mashing’, and has variously and playfully merged detective noir with post-modern sci-fi, and race drama with trippy thriller while his first attempt at a full-length novel (at the age of fifteen) was, by his own admission, ’a desperately confused attempt at trying to mate Arthur C. Clarke and Richard Brautigan'.

The book he is best known for on these shores is Motherless Brooklyn, whose private eye protagonist Lionel Essrog is hampered by Tourette’s Syndrome, leading to comically crazed events in what can only be described as a cursory tale. The film of the book is at an advanced stage with the hot hands of Ed Norton shaping direction and the lead role. ‘Of actors more or less the right age of Lionel, there is no better choice,’ insists Lethem.

For his latest book, As She Climbed Across The Table (released in the US in 1997 but only receiving its UK debut now), Lethem has melded a metaphysical love story with an elaborate dissection of the life of atoms, chaos, matter and all that stuff. It‘s Paul Auster taking Ray Bradbury to an illogical conclusion. Or perhaps it's Don DeLillo wrestling Stephen Hawking's theories onto a particle- laden floor.

Compared to his previous works, the book is relatively short with snappy chapters and snappier lines as our academic hero Philip attempts to understand why his long-term partner Alice has shunned his love for a black hole called ‘Lack’. Throw in some quirky individuals such as the enigmatic Professor Soft and inseparable blind physicists Evan and Garth and this could even be Lewis Carroll stuck in

mitten r :,;‘ li/lolhi‘rrlnfaz‘. Brooklyn

Efih a n d Act‘hgslable

Atoms, chaos, love and black holes

a lift with Einstein on the set of Blade Runner.

'Philip is the typical humanities guy who is drawn to the language and metaphors of science but is completely unable to cross the threshold and understand it for himself,’ notes Lethem. ‘The point was to aggressively and elaborately misunderstand physics and project my own metaphors onto it.’ Come with Jonathan Lethem for a meeting of many minds. (Brian Donaldson)

I As She Climbed Across The Table IS published on Mon 8 Jan Mother/e55 Brooklyn is out now in paperback priced £5.99.

FAMILY SAGA Margaret Drabble The Peppered lvloth (Viking £16.99)

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{£67 Wffiat: .\lARC/\RET DRABBLE

A poignant homespun tale

Margaret Drabble’s latest work of fiction began life as an attempt to tell the story of the author's mother and developed into her most ambitious novel to date. Growmg up in depressed South Yorkshire, Bessie Bawtry is something of a genetic oddity: clever, fragile, determined to escape the bleak eXistence of her family and ancestors

Taking its title and central metaphor from a creature With the power to adapt to its Surroundings, the book examines the way families remain stagnant for generations, draWing parallels between the aspirations and disappomtments of Bessie’s life With those of her granddaughter, Faro Goulden. Movmg, brilliantly observed and rendered in remarkable period detail, The Peppered Moth has been five years in the making and well worth the wait

’I had to rewrite a good deal of this novel as l was working on it over a long penod,’ she says. 'I enjoy the actual writing when it all goes smoothly and hate it when I can’t get it

right. But I always enjoy pottering

around looking at places, for local colour and iogged memories,’

With such a pOignant tale residing so close to home, it’s perhaps Surprising that the book has taken so long to write. Yet, for Drabble, the experience of recreating her mother's life was often a painful one. 'l found it very depressing at times,' she admits. ’l enioyed writing about Bessie's granddaughter Faro and l enjoyed describing S0uth Yorkshire, but the defeats of my mother's life and her general unhappiness were depressing.’ (Allan Radcliffe)

I The Peppered Moth is published on Fri Slan.


First writes

Debutants under the microscope. This issue: Burkhard Bilger

Who the heck? Burkhard Bilger |\ a. coontry blues gtiitar player who wanted a lazy coonhound for an audience Livmg in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the time, he found :1 Virtually imposs'ible to find one of these atypically Deep South doggies The search for the hound involved a return home to the old South of Loursiana, Virginia and Georgia, a Journey that inspired his foray into print

His debut It's called Nood/ing For Flat/reads, a travel Journal in \'\.lll( h the slightly nerdy Bilger catches fish With his fingers, goes cockfightinq, moonshine drinking, frog Tal)(lllll(] and coon hunting (that's racoon, lll case you were wondering)

Basically Subtitled Moonshine, Monster Catfish And Other Southern Comforts, this is The Lost Continent Without the patronismg attitude Bilger never ledQES the roughnecks who show him the hidden crafts of the Old South but VIVIdly budds up a tOtl( hing picture of this dying breed

First line tests Each chapter deals With a different blood sport or tradition and they begin With intros like 'Growmq up With Lee McFarlin, I never took him for someone With odd and intimate dealings With fish’. And: ’The road from Baton Rouge to Lafayette snakes through the heart of Cajun country, barely elevated above the swarnp’s reach’. Also ’Tim Patridge was seventeen-years-old and hungry for the Wide world beyond Atlanta, When he first learned that you can make a silk purse out of a sow‘s ear.’

Not to be confused with Sink/n Spells, Hot Flashes, Fits And Cravms, a rather wonderful anthology of Deep South White trash cooking by Ernest Matthew Mickler. The two books do however complement each other like Glennie Nell’s Roast Christmas Possum With

Aunt Caliope's Mixed Up Beans Yee haw, which ways the harigin’7

(Paul Dale)

l Noodling For F/atheads is published by Hei'nemann on Thu 7 7 Jan priced £72.99.


Moonshmo. Monitor Colirili ood oihor Southom Conlom


Slan—l8 Jan 200T THE LIST 95