Fiction and biography


Odds & Ends (Bloomsbury £20) 0.0.

hatever you think of the art and life of WRobert Crumb, you would have to

admit that he's really, really good at drawing. Over a period of 40 years, the granddaddy of underground comix has repulsed, shocked, amused and titillated readers with a series of strips which have eulogised drugs, encouraged sexual frivolity (some would call it sleaze) and caused the establishment to come over all queasy at the very thought of him. While Flakey Foont, Mr Natural and Angelfood McSpade may not be household names (asides from in the homes of fortysomething dopeheads), the debased dypso antics of Fritz The Cat may eventually come to be his most

enduring legacy.

While his sketches have caused uproar and revulsion to many, there is little doubt that he hates himself as much as he ioathes the conservative establishment (a force which caused him to flee America in the 803 for France where he continues to indulge in his two favourite pastimes, drawing cartoons and playing banjo). Your Vigor For Life Appals Me: Crumb Letters 1958-1977 and his series of Self- Loafhing comics pretty much say it all. His new collection of old, rarely seen and newer works,

Odds & Ends, tell it better.

To Crumb, modern life isn’t so much rubbish, as bloody terrifying

The cover image sees Crumb twisted and sweating, as he tries to leave behind the agonies and awkwardness of the city; to the cartoonist,

modern life isn't so much rubbish, as bloody

terrifying. Other self-portraits have him with hands out,

appealing for understanding (‘dear God, why won’t they listen to mei?l’) or forgiveness (a cover of Hulp Comics

has him on his knees promising never to draw his

sexual fantasies again).

But never mind himself, does he hate women even more? They are frequently represented with fat asses and tree-trunk legs with expressions which are either passive or sinister; his design for Devil Girl Choco Bar has a Gladiator-type woman with a ball-crusher’s thighs

Revolting anachronist or revolutionary anarchist?

and a monster’s teeth. Unsurprisingly, she implores you to ‘eat me’. And you have to see his interpretation of Monica Lewinsky to be assured that Crumb believes Clinton to have been an innocent, perspiring victim of

animalistic, predatorial female overdrive.

Despite his ability to nauseate and appal, you can hardly stop yourself from admiring the sheer verve and wicked talent of the man. And his 1986 sketch of a fearsome, ugly, stinky egg-laying Margaret Thatcher is nothing short of endearing. (Brian Donaldson)




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‘01): of'thc gut storytellers of our time' Guardian

Ordinary folk caught up in extraordinary situations

98 1'". LIST 15—29 Mar 2001


STEPHEN KING Dreamcatcher (Hodder 8 Stoughton €17.99) .0.

Stephen King is one of the world's greatest storytellers. So say the millions of fans he calls his “constant readers'. The key to King's popularity is his use of the oldest trick in the book; he tells us how normal people react in extraordinary situations. and he uses language that would warm you round a camp fire.

For the first third of this doorstep- thick yarn King’s first since his near- fatal road accident the storyteller is on good form. Four regular guys reunite for an annual November weekend of hunting in the snowbound woods of Maine. Okay. so Pete the drunkard car salesman, Henry the depressed psychiatrist. Jonesy the academic with the busted hip (result of a car accident. would you believe?) and chilled-out slacker Beaver aren't quite ordinary guys. They've developed a psychic bond since befriending paranormaIIy-gifted Down Syndrome

kid Duddits when they were kids.

Part one of Dreamcatcher fleshes out this quartet in loving detail, flipping between their variously disappointing adult lives and the childhood glory days when they saved Duddits from eating shit literally from the hand of a school bully. This is typical King and reminiscent of his magnum opus If; both books are set in Derry (the fictitious alter ego of King’s hometown. Bangor) and King can‘t help but include in Dreamcatcher an explicit. and for constant readers. thrilling reference to the earlier book. Like It's protagonists, Pete. Henry. Jonesy and the Beav must call upon their childhood to overcome a supernatural or. in this case. extra-terrestrial fOrce.

Sadly thereafter. as King cranks up the action, Dreamcatcher loses it. Daft and derivative of Close Encounters. X- Fi/es. etc. Dreamcatcher never improves upon its theme of male friendship. Wouldn't it be great to read a King book about normal people reacting to everyday situations?

(Miles Fielder)

First writes

Putting debut novelists under the microscope.

Meaghan Delahunt

Who she? Born and raised in MelbOurne. Meaghan Delahunt dropped Out of univerSity to werk W the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party until being excommunicated“ in 1986. Eclectic times fonowed. during which she travelled the world. did factOry WOrk. taught English. wrote poetry and continued to wrestle With Trotsky. She won the FlamingoiHarper's 8. Queen Australian Shon Stery Competition on her 1997 return to her homeland. She now lives in Edinburgh.

Her debut Written over three years. In The Blue House eprOres the impact of Trotsky's final years in exile. Several v0ices take up the stow: Stalin and his Wife. Leon's father and Trotsky himself. Against the backdrop of 20th century Russian politics. Delahunt focuses on an imagined affair between Trotsky and charismatic artist Frida Kahlo. Basically If, like the Stranglers. you've been wondering whatever happened to LeOn Trotsky. this challenging novel could well have been written for you. Though Delahunt verges on the trainspotter-ish in her obsession, this is a confident. ambitious. exhaustively- researched debut.

First paragraph test ‘That house: the cradle and the grave. The colour of it azul anil a deep matt blue to keep evil away. We say it is a blessing to be born and die in the same house. Now that she is gone I imagine the birth and remember the death. It rained much on both occasions.’

(Allan Radcliffe)

I In The Blue House is published by Bloomsbury priced E 7 6.99.