Fiction & Biography '
AUTOBIOG FICTION V.S. NAIPAUL Half A Life (Picador 53.15.99) 0000
In the prologue to 1998’s Beyond Belief, V.S. Naipaul described himself as a ‘manager of narratives’. He was perhaps referring to the way in which he had woven together a series of interviews and personal impressions in order to form a study of Islamic converts. The phrase, though, could easily be applied to his role in this, his first novel in seven years.
Despite the title’s hint that this is a truncated history, Half A Life is a book in which a subclause can contain an elucidating, engaging story. The main tale is formed around Willie, a young Indian and budding writer, who emigrates twice; first to study in England and then to follow his lover to a country which is intended to be Mozambique but is strangely never mentioned by name. The book begins, however, with a potted history of the means by which Willie’s father met his mother and throughout is saturated with the histories of the world around him.
While the style is, typically for later Naipaul, a model of simplicity - pure and serious in tone yet frequently undercut by his charmingly ironic naivety - HalfA Life still manages to embrace one man’s rootless search for his own story among the untamed variety of those he finds around him. In this the character clearly resembles the author himself.
There are clear similarities too in factual details. Naipaul left Trinidad for England aged eighteen and his rootless, stateless character, Willie leaves India at the same age with the same destination in mind. We have always known that Naipaul was, if not eager to dramatise his own life in his work, then certainly
less concerned about hiding it than others.
Yet it is this honesty which still makes Naipaul not just a pleasurable read but a necessary one. His 1962 travelogue written about his native Trinidad called The Middle Passage had him condemned as a racist by black Caribbeans. In Beyond Belief he stated that ‘there probably has been no imperialism like that of Islam and the Arab . . . [because] Islam seeks as an
article of the faith to erase the past’.
In this book his Indian character can strip the
CHARLES R. CROSS Heavier Than Heaven iHodder & Stoughton 55.17%» 0...
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As sombre as it is ambitious
dreariest of London bohemians bare, express his
admiration for the earliest of Portuguese settlers and offer a brutal insight into the sexual politics of colonialisation. He may take us into territories where we can have no other guide to rely on than Naipaul himself, but he never shirks the task he has given himself. HaIfA Life may be as sombre as it is ambitious but it is a welcome addition to the works of
the world’s greatest literary troubadour.
|n Kurt Cobain. the MTV generation had their first complete View of the rise and untimer fall of one of their icons. From the tentative plays of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' on left-field music show 120 minutes through their lauded Unplugged session to the memorial service for Cobain in Seattle, his every move feels so well documented that it is surprising Cross's book is as good as it is.
The secret here is Cross was allowed unprecedented access to Cobain's world: his diaries. artworks and most significantly the people who surrounded him. His readable ster draws on over 100 interViews conducted with Cobain's family. his wife Courtney Love. band mates. friends. and those others that crossed paths with Cobain in his brief 27 years.
Details of his formative years and that about his much pondered on drug use are explored like never before and
Cross casts a thankfully unsentimental eye on Cobain's relationship with heroin. He shatters some common myths — Courtney Love did not introduce him to the drug — he had been a user some years before he met her. Sadly. he also confirms many a fan's worst fear: that junk dictated Cobain's moods and therefore the creative focus of the band.
As editor of lauded Seattle rock magazine The Rocket. Cross had his own experience to draw on. capturing Nirvana at their creative zenith — more than just a live band. more a scrawny. wailing, ball of raw energy that so many could connect With and be excited by. Cross may vividly depict the seemingly inevitable demise of a rock star but he also successfully conveys just what all the fuss was abOut in the first place and in turn, helping pinpoint just what made Cobain such a reluctant voice of a generation. (Mark Robertson)
Putting debut novelists under the microscope. This issue: Peter Burnett
Who he? Peter Burnett hails from hearty Aberdeenshire farming stock and now lives in Glasgow. Having previously worked in theatre and as a call centre operative. his Current day-job as an investment advisor disguises a thrilling clandestine eXistence as a writer of short stories. some of which have been published in De/iberate/y Thirsty magazine.
His debut Though Burnett's first novel defies plot synopsis. The Machine Doctor is your average ambitious. multi-voiced satire on the soiiidestroying. mind-numbing effects of computers l'l the 21st century. incorporatrng a histOry of technological amances. Set in a grim Aberdeen of the future. Burnett's characters include a corrupt entrepreneur and a local councillor who dreams of seeing everyone in his parish on-line.
Basically . . . With its wry authorial veice. deadpan humour and ITTC'VOTOIII attitude to technology. this recalls The Hitchhikers Gil/tie To The Ga/axy. Though the novel is busin populated and occasionally confusing. it is aiso fast-- paced. insightful. inventive and frequently hilarious. First paragraph test ‘The road is one foot beneatl‘ the body of the car. the machine is a mine of information timed. measured and displayed. settled l". a cradle between two rubber tyres. What is ascertai'iabie of the tarmac is felt up\.'.'ards through attachment points and coil springs. ail cori'ect'y matched.' vAllan Itadclr‘fe:
I The Machine Doctor is published by Thirsty Books priced 519.95).