Fiction & Biography com 2 Le: hf; JOHN IRVING The Fourth Hand E3 00.0

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Putting debut novelists under the microscope. This

Having your expectations met on a regular _ issue: Malcolm Knox

basis is not to be sniffed at. And knowing that every two-four years you can stroll into a bookshop and leave clutching the latest John Irving is something the author’s fans have come to rely on. Since publishing his first novel, Setting Free The Bears in 1968, Irving has continually raised the standard of his storytelling, and his tenth offering, The Fourth Hand is no exception.

As stories go, this intricate tale of a one- handed TV journalist is as bizarre, convoluted and life-affirming as any of his other outpourings. His ability to think outside of the box and tap into the less perceptible side of

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life remains untarnished. '*’ H But strangely, whereas Irving could usually p 'i a do with a little editorial reigning in, here we’re w m "" ' '3 left with a sense of incompleteness. Having 5", m? e ‘H‘ ' taken us through a surfeit of scene-setting - \ ‘1 :1 t W much of which is Irving at his comic best O H 3 "l 1' ' t ' t .t‘ " t '

we suddenly find ourselves hurtling towards our descent rather than coasting along on a cloud of elaborate detours and secondary

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(but no less detailed) characters. And while ‘9‘?” “\:"“*“'“~" ""‘~ there were times during his last novel, A (“75" 3"" ' “"9‘ i‘ *‘7- "‘ o . )' \i \r’ \r‘ \f ivy y‘.‘ , H,

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seemed to overtake Irving’s ability to cut to the chase, here he could have afforded himself a few extra pages.

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As ever, our hero is Iikeable but deeply _J Y?" S“""“"" ‘5'“ '” "VT flawed. A handsome TV news journalist $ ‘3"“7U‘V 9' MU“ ' 7‘“ ' '°~' desperate to delve beneath the surface of , 8 ""r‘i”: “’ "‘ “' any story, Patrick Wallingford is instead I L; "’5" “51‘1"” iii“ I“ consigned to cover freak accidents and 3 ‘5’ ‘"""""“ """VW "‘ "" """ unfortunate, but vaguely comedic, tragedies. Irving meets all expectations "‘5" (if "“"‘"‘-"TY" “W” °~~ Each assignment finds him in a different country 30M“‘35"“‘73- 1" T3 "’ ‘~" and, inevitably, in a different bed with the latest novel’s comic appeal, comes and goes all too fleetingly. 'j"’”"”"" "H" h""'”"' "" """ respondent to his boundless charm. But when Likewise the object of Wallingford’s affections W”? ’3" V‘""""""" T“ " "' Wallingford finds himself the recipient of a most remains something of an enigma. But it’s testament to "5’ PW """“" m": "‘“i’” unusual hand job (namely a lion biting it off) he slowly Irving’s appeal that the only complaint is lack of length; ‘3"“""39i’ 3" 3""? ° " " begins to reappraise his outlook on life and love. what might be considered excess padding in lesser '19": to "JV-Q"

Although frankly, not slowly enough. His road to novelists would have been positively embraced here. First line teSt U" W ’- ' happiness is peppered, rather than littered with Perhaps Irving had one eye on the computer and the <13) W” 4*“ <?'~"<="‘* it“~”‘-'- -’- '9 ' " diversions and there’s a sense that just as Wallingford other on his Oscar for The Cider House Rules, Wu" "(Witt l<‘ 8) "UH?"- should have spent more time investigating his maximising his chances of a repeat performance with a <l*"<i~ll“fi<?‘ll"‘3‘t in ’3“: M185 T assignments, Irving should have spent more time screenplay-friendly lack of complexity. Ultimately " (7‘ ‘5 {alrift'W/‘f’i‘ 1 'i' " languishing on his characters. A wonderfully well- though, The Fourth Hand is as formulaic as Irving’s r‘ law?" 'fe t<:i;r:t"e' ' rounded hand surgeon, responsible for much of the other novels; but then if it ain’t broke . . . (Kelly Apter) WW ‘A‘lé‘t” Hil"‘13"f“i

I Strip”Verit'rnil if; {Jin’J'as‘riii I r). Picador" priced E 72 ‘99. AuthOrs can't Sing. and pop stars can't The three are on the eve of their last Outlaws “0%th Cape E10) .... write books. It's Just one of those rules. big JOD of the year. but the influence of MuSiCians from the bOrders of popular rival gangs and the actions of the Culture have had a little more success: treacher0us Ratter make this particular like COuntry rnUSICian Klllk) Friedman, robbeg an especially dangerous task. or Belle & Sebastian's Stuart David. This is a gripping tale. and the three KEVIN Sampson was l‘.8\ er a pop star. emerge thr0ugh Sampson's fractured but as manager of the shambolicalli. narrative as men full of contradictions. brilliant Farm, he enjoyed more than his murderers aspiring to middle—class I fair brush with chart Success. And if he respectability. henpecked husbands is as close to Literpool's criminal wrth several kilos of coke in the boot. , underworld as Outtaws suggests. and fathers who do not understand neon-run mu anyone who filched from the band's their sons. rider was in for a snort. sharp shock. Despite his title. Sampson is no This is \oteurism of a different kind to hagiographer. althOugh the len.ent Madonna's masturbaton Sex: it's the ending dished out to some of his N \icarious thrill of reading about thugs protagonists suggests a certain ' . ~ who commit rroie \iolence in a day s;.'; palm. Still. outlaws throughout than mosth us do ill a litetiiite. histo. ,. l‘id\t: beer: misrepresented one Sampson's outlaws are Ger. Ratter and a. or another. and these Outlaws Moot. a close-knit trio lll\ 01\ ed in reek or authenticity. You're reminded of robberies. drugs running and casual, the adage that Robin Hood took from Chilling \rolence. The worst of the lot is the ricn because they had money. and Ratter. a man whose hobbies include gate to the pOOr because otherwise badger baiting and battering the the, d teii the rich where he stashed nis women who are toolisn er io'ugh to ill-gotten gains. A vast; busii iess. but a A nasty, compelling portrait sleep with hirn. cc; .peiiing portrait. dairies Srr‘artl

100 THE LIST 19 JL.‘—2 Aug .SUC‘