scomsn BOOK OF THE MONTH £2 arr in JULY
,ﬂhﬁﬁU 7' IN 'l'lllEvBM
100 THE LIST 21 Jun—:3 Jul 2001
POST-WAR DRAMA MELVYN BRAGG
A Son Of War (Hodder 8. Stoughton €16.99) 0...
Every celebrity Tam, Boab and Archie’s a novelist these days. And why not (as one high- profile film critic-cum-author might say)? There’s an inherent difficulty in reading fiction by writers who are better known for their day jobs, in that unfair expectations are brought to
This can be distracting.
Arts defender doesn’t disappoint
When I read my first Ben Elton novel, I was disappointed not to find it peopled by bespectacled, fair- weather socialist mockneys. Luckily, surreal TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh satisfied all expectations by producing a surreal novel about a gardener with lots of gratuitous how’s-your-father among the herbaceous borders for his TV fans. Melvyn Bragg, lTV’s lonely defender of the arts, has been a scribbler for aeons, but has never achieved the recognition this sideline warrants. His new novel, the latest in a string of historical works, is the story of a young World War II corporal’s attempt to reintegrate into civilian life in working class Cumbria. Sam, the protagonist, is torn between aspirations for self-betterment and a war-weary cynicism, between fear and macho stoicism; tensions that become played out in his relationships with his wife and son. A Son Of War recalls that strain of post-war ‘it’s grim-oop-north’ fiction in which men’s disillusionment struggles to find legitimate expression. This theme is movingly explored through the characters, but what’s compelling about the book is Bragg’s unsentimental writing style. Who would have expected the author of that elaborate hairdo and those overblown Ken Russell biopics to write so delicately and lucidly about the past? Which just goes to show, a book shouldn’t be judged by
its author. (Allan Radcliffe)
LITERARY TRAVELOGUE MIRANDA FRANCE
Don Quixote's Delusions: Travels In Castilian Spain (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 5:20) .0.
From unwittingly being shacked-up in a brothel as a student in late 80$ Madrid to years later attending the annual memorial service for Cervantes. author of Spain's greatest novel. Don Quixote de la Mancha. Miranda France takes us on an extensive tour of Spain. The Li'st's former visual arts editor has written no ordinary travelogue; we dart through history. culture. politics and literature as well as the adventures that characterised France's year abroad to study.
Her skill in colourfully painting the situations and environment she finds herself in is a pleasure to read - from the barefoot order of nuns at Cervantes 'funeral‘ to the baby- leaping ritual of El Golacho — you can almost smell as well as picture the characters and events that populate modern-day Spain.
But by combining an in-
depth analysis of Don Quixote. France distances the reader. You'll cherish her true-life anecdotes. but might end up skimming through the social commentary.
POST-WAR DRAMA RACHEL SEIFFERT
The Dark Room (William Heinemann £12.99) 00.
Rachel Seiffert's debut focuses on three yOung Germans: Helmut who
. sees the rise of the Third
Reich and the destruction of Berlin through his camera lens; Lore. the daughter of Nazis. on an arduous j0urney across Germany at the bitter end of the war. who is helped by a man with numbers
tattooed on his forearm. Finally Micha. a teacher living 50 years later who is wracked with suspicions about his gentle grandfather's part in the most notorious war crime of the 20th century. Snapshot images. from family photos to newspaper pictures of concentration camps play a part in the plot. but the real stories of this book are found in the dark, ambivalent places just off camera. There's nothing to hiss or cheer about here. no Hollywood—Holocaust conventions. Ultimately the book's more laudable than enjoyable. really because it's hard to accept that not everything can be exposed in black and white. (Minnie Scott)
FAMILY DRAMA HAMISH MACDONALD The Gravy Star (1 1 :9 £9.99) 00..
A jakie peers into the light at the end of the abandoned railway tunnels under Glasgow's Botanic Gardens. In short. barely comprehensible sentences. he begins to describe both what he