Fiction & Biography

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The Lantern Bearers D rsmacks £33.99i 0...

Ronald Frame's Saltire award-winning novel The Lantern Bearers is a memoir of a formative adolescent summer holiday spent in some quietly sinister rural backwater. A worryingly familiar premise perhaps, but that’s where the similarity between Five Go To Kirren Island and this dark, sinewy novel begins and ends. The book opens innocuously enough with a meeting between Neil Pritchard, a biographer, and his publisher. Pritchard is being commissioned to write the life story of Euan Bone, a Scottish composer who died in 1963 and whose work is enjoying new interest in the post- Devolution years. Now in his 405 and resident in Rome, Pritchard is a leading authority on the composer's life

and work.

Pritchard’s attraction to Bone’s music is then traced to the summer of 1962, when as a fourteen-year-old boy, he is despatched by his parents to spend the summer in Auchendrennan on the Solway Firth. Neil, a soprano in the choir at his Glasgow school, is invited by local celebrity Euan Bone to aid the composer on his latest work The Lantern Bearers, based on the

essay by Stevenson.

On meeting the charismatic Bone, the schoolboy is immediately afflicted with a powerful crush and pushes his voice to its limits in an effort to please the composer. As the weeks go by, the boy finds himself cast in the role of muse, with Bone living out his musical aspirations through his relationship with Neil, extending his obsession with the new work through

their afternoon walks and swims.

lnevitably, as with all holiday romances, all good

things must come to an end, and Neil’s summer idle ends harshly and abruptly with the descent of his

singing voice. Finding himself unceremoniously cast out of Bone’s inner circle, he retreats into an adolescent sulk of gargantuan proportions, at first obsessing over finding a way back into the composer’s affections and eventually embarking on a disastrous course of


Frame's novel shares with the best thrillers that veneer of mundane normality that barely represses the threat of impending tragedy. Nothing is what it seems in Auchendrennan, but clarity can only be achieved with hindsight. Happily, Frame never allows this sense of threat to boil over into melodrama. Instead, the plot



The Dog Catcher (Sceptre E12) 0...

Renowned stand-up and TV comedian. Alexei Sayle has been n‘aking modest inroads into the literary world for some years now and The Dog; Catcher illustrates a Significant pi'ogi'esSIon in his work.

His first volume of short stories. Barcelona Plates. although well told and very funny. were often not unlike his TV writing: bitty and sketch-like. The Dog Catcher sees a more confident. patient style developing. Some stories do still rely on that punchline to succeed. which can frustrate if you're consCiously waiting for it. His characters however, are much more solid here and Suitany diverse: a feisty blonde invading the relative calm of the ex-Pat retirement world of the Spanish coast. bakers in Stalinist Russia and a cyclist hater riding the streets of Camden Town are all thrown into the mix.

One thing Sayle is noted for is his merging of comedy with politics. Only Mark Thomas has successfully combined the two in recent times. Ben

94 THE LIST 5—1:“ Jul 2031



“A master of suspense to rank alongside the greats.’ THE TIMES

The Saltire winner weaves a compelling and

surprising path

weaves a path that is both compelling and surprising, not least for the acuteness of the author’s observations, nor the sympathy he extends to his ambivalent

What is most striking, though, is the honest depiction

of Neil’s homosexual awakening, and the sheer hell of

Elton and his ilk are still stuck in the early 80s. He paints a terrifying picture of those inhabiting both the media and politics. people Simultaneously as ridiculous. powerful and frightening as Joseph Stalin himself.

Rupert (small ‘r'). a shallow. materialistic New Labourite. whose children sleep on a suspended sheet of polished steel. so as not to break the flow of their ultra-modern ‘home'. Or Clive Hole. the unhinged TV

physical change. When Neil arrives in Auchendrennan he is Iikeably green and it is genuinely painful to experience his helpless descent into mistrust and self- loathing. In that sense, Frame’s novel recalls less Stevenson’s ‘Boys Own’ tales than the paranoid horror of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde. (Allan Radcliffe)

Sayle barks up the right tree

programme commis3ioner, unable to make a decision and who is so comically whole that he must have been at least partly drawn from real life. Sayle effertlessly and justly savages these New Labour lizards and media muppets.

This is more than just cultural satire. there are moments of poignancy and beauty in these stories too, proof that Alexei Sayle is definitely barking up the right tree. (Mark Robertson)

First writes

Putting debut novelists under the microscope. This issue: Hester Kaplan

Who she? Her tales haxe appeared in Best American Short Stories and her first full collection The Edge Of Marriage won the Flannery O'Connor Award. She Currently resides on Rhode Island With her hubbie and two boys, Apparently, Kaplan was inspired to write the first paragraph of her debut as her second sen drifted off to sleep. Her debut Kinship Theory centres around Maggie Crown and her daughter Dale, who was born without a uterus. Her mum agrees. aged 47, to bear her a Child. believrng that this wrll bring them closer. Of cOurse. it doesn't.

Basically . . . Basically, this novel takes the fictional mother/daughter relationship into new terrain. How do you cope with not being able to keep that which you love? Well, you don't, so yOu go to extreme lengths, which yOu see as necessary but others see as the ultimate betrayal. It may well be the first novel to get torn in to the tricky ethical and emotional consequences of modern reproduction methods. and turning the whole notion of family on its head.

Praise be The American critics heaped plaudits onto Kinship Theory agreeing that it was a brave look at the underwritten subject of surrogacy. 'Subtle. nuanced. affecting and beautiful, according to Publishers Weekly while Kirkus believes that Kaplan ‘successfully avords the saccharine and melodramatic. First line test ‘Maggie Crown was pregnant wrth her daughter's baby. and she was alone'. (Brian Donaldson)

I Kinship Theory is pub/ished by The Women '8 Press priced £9.99.

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