Fiction & Biography '


LOUIS DE BERNIERES Red Dog (Secker & Warburg £10) 000':-

It's always healthy to keep your readership on its toes. Gleefully wrong-footing expectations, Louis de Bemieres - internationally acclaimed novelist, originator of the Captain Corelli phenomenon and scourge of Greek communists and Scots social realist writers - has produced a slim, whimsical tale about a flatulent Red Cloud kelpie with an almost uncanny ability to get around the Western Australian outback.

As the book is aimed at children of all ages, and given the imaginative possibilities offered up by children’s fiction, it’s intriguing that this most inventive and versatile of writers should now have produced his most restrained work to date.

Like that homespun yarn about a heroic canine Greyfriar’s Bobby, de Bernieres’ novel was inspired by a statue of the celebrated Red Dog he discovered in a town in Western Australia, and local lore about the sheepdog's adventures during the mid-708. In sniffing out the stories behind the myth, de Bernieres has created in his pooch protagonist a kind of Littlest Hobo figure, a creature of few needs with a handy

Louis de Berntéres

knack for locating ‘tucker’ and beloved of all that meet him.

When we first meet Red, he is a family pet named Tally Ho, living with Jack and Maureen Collins in suburban Paraburdoo. When he ‘goes bush’ permanently, he falls in with John, a pioneer from New Zealand, and uses the iron company worker’s home as a base from which to travel from town to town. Red Dog is soon a venerated figure throughout the state, despite his chronic wind problem.

Aided by Alan Baker’s lovely black-and-red illustrations, de Bernieres’ stories successfully reflect the heat and dust of the Australian outback, while also echoing the pioneering spirit in Red’s character. The problem, for readers of all ages, is that de Bernieres’ Red

This venture into young adult fiction lacks bite

occasionally moving, the dog’s encounters are simply too ordinary to really capture the imagination and the human characters are so thinly drawn as to verge on stereotyping. Red stealing sausages from the ‘barbie’ or Red going to the vet for his injections may have been funny anecdotes, particularly rendered in de Bernieres’ deliberate mimicking of the laid-back Oz parlance, yet all too often, readers will find themselves longing for surprises, some magic realism, outrageous comedy or bloodshed.

In the age of Harry Potter, cute books about animals need to be pretty remarkable to make any kind of mark.

largely fails to live up to his legend.

While the stories here are frequently amusing and


A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away (Little. Brown £9.99) 0

when. lo on u mum then We. Doom" “CMDV l‘u’7'"

104 m LIST 4—18 Oct 2001

De Bernieres’ Red Dog doesn’t bite, nor does it suck; it’s

‘In the light of recent world events Little. Brown has rewritten the jacket copy of Christopher Brookmyre's new novel.‘ announce the publishers of A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away. The phrase ‘Terrorism: it's the new rock 'n' roll' is seen as a tad inappropriate yet is still a pretty nifty insight into the character of Simon Darcourt.

The book's anti-hero was once a lead singer in a rock band and is now an international terrorist. two careers that Brookmyre rather banally compares. Darcourt is one of those new designer contract terrorists that Brookmyre appears to have made up entirely for the sake of his book. The villain returns to his native Scotland where he plans to wreak further untold havoc as the Black Spirit. and when he bumps into a meek-minded ex-college chum, his plans slowly unravel.

The problem with the tale is not that Brookmyre consciously condones his terrorist; he makes it very clear that Darcourt is a thorOughly nasty

just a bit dull. (Allan Radcliffe)

person. Even wnen dossing about at university. he uses his flatmates towels without their permission. It's just that you get the impression that he thoroughly enjoys writing the endless rants which are supposed to represent the ‘internal monologues‘ of this unbelievable terrorist.

There is also the child-like glee With which Brookmyre describes his character's thoroughly implausible history of violence before pulling him up short with the literary eCiuivalent of a slap on the wrists.

The plot is equally confused. Brookmyre‘s tendency to exhaustiver describe certain facts in order to create a keen sense of reality and then alter others in order to make the ragged ends of his plot add up was irritating enough in his last book Boiling A Frog. Here though it reaches new depths. ls Brookmyre writing a political thriller? Or a conspiracy theOry satire? Whatever it is meant to be. it's turned out a mess. (Tim Abrahams)

First writes

Debut novelists under the microsco e. This issue: Richard sp/in

Who he? Richard Asplin came to fiction writing via the now obligatOry series of weird and unsatisfying jobs. Like fellow twentysomething author Jenny Colgan he cut his spurs writing stand-up material. film reviews and cartoon strips. Asplin has also been a men's underpants salesman. which probably SOunds funnier than it is.

His debut In the opening scene of T-Shi'rt & Genes. biology teacher Charlie Ellis is caught shagging fiancee Deborah in the school staffroom during parents evening. Out on his ear and minus a girlfriend. Charlie embarks on a series of memorable dates. while trying to apply his scientific mind to the business of l'amour. Basically . . . Asplin's debut is amusing and fast-paced. but the author‘s warmly humorous style cannot disguise the fact that this is just another ‘new-lad in crisis' tale of woe and ultimate redemption. As a comic exploration of the gender divide. ASplin's conclusions are on the level of ‘Men like Star Wars and farting in public. Women don‘t.‘ Charlie's eventual (and totally predictable) realisation that what he wants but of life is responsibility. wife and kids arrives about 300 pages after the reader's. Not awful. just utterly unsurprising.

First line test "‘Okay. but quick then," she giggled. "And not here because I've got a Staple gun up my bottom".' (Allan Radcliffe)

I T-Shin 8 Genes is published by Arrow priced E 6. 99.

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