Fiction &_Biography '


THE WEEKENDERS Travels In The Heart Of Africa (Ebury Press £7.99) 00.

Somewhat dubiously sponsored by The Telegraph, this fundraising set of fictional stories about war-torn Sudan is a clammy collection from Alex Garland, WF Deedes, Tony Hawks, Irvine Welsh, Wctoria Glendinning, Andrew O’Hagan and Giles Foden. Given the quality of writers, the standard is fairly low but there are a few jewels in the sand.

Sudan established its independence from British colonial rule in 1956 but since 1983 has been ensnared in a bloody civil war drawn roughly along battle lines of the Arab Muslim north vs African Christian south. There are however, twenty or more different sub-conflicts going on within the country, mostly of a tribal nature. The strife is added to by the fact that the oil fields and the dirty great pipeline running across the Kordofan provinces past Khartoum out to the Red Sea is illegally protected by US and UK investors whose links to the corrupt government runs all the way back to the arms dealers’ bank balance.

Truth is definitely stranger than fiction in Sudan, so how were these seven going to create drama out of the crisis that is central Africa? Undoubtedly the most over-rated writer of the last five years, Alex Garland kicks things off with the truly anaemic ‘R.S.S.’; once again Garland stretches his talent to its limit with an ambitious metaphorical mirage about loss and decay that leads nowhere and says nothing.

WF Deedes’ ‘A Small Mission 0f Enquiry’ is more fun, a clever little thriller that nicely pinpoints the double standards of Britain’s foreign policies. The man who initiated this project, Deedes is the 70-year-old Africa correspondent for The Telegraph and this is his first-ever published piece of fiction and is both tight and entertaining.

Then on comes the office clown Tony Hawks, author of silly sausage travel yarns like Round Ireland With A Fridge, treating us to his attempts at creating an international song of brotherhood with the Sudanese. Hawks is a vain and surreal writer who relies on loaded similes far too much but this is amusing enough to carry you through to Andrew O’Hagan’s touching ‘Fish River’.


ANDREW MORTON Madonna (Michael O' Mara £18)

Frustratingly conventional


100 THE LIST 15-29 Nov 2001

Trying a d largely failing, to make drama out of a crisis

With his latest celebrity opus. Andrew Morton claims to ‘shed light on what ... powers the Madonna phenomenon.‘ Yet. for all his long-winded analysis of the star‘s career to date. Morton‘s conCIUSions are commonplace. his biography frustratingly conventional. names.

With much of the book occupied with chronicling events leading up to Maddie's first US hit single. the author reflects constantly on the paradox of the Michigan teenager's insatiable craving for fame coupled with her terror of failure.

He also repeatedly cites the connection between her almost preternatural drive and her avowedly affection-starved upbringing following her mother's death. Even the blindest of amateur armchair psychologists would spot the correlation between these events.

Admittedly. the man who has spent much of his adult life grubbing around in the dirty linen baskets of Uber-celebs. has unearthed plenty of Madonna's early

Unfortunately, this tale of a polluted waterway is nowhere near what this brilliantly intelligent writer is capable of.

Irvine Welsh rallies the troops with the longest story in the book at a grand 41 pages. ‘Contamination: A Novella In Regress’ is an exciting, artfully-paced tale of everyday moonshine folk and happily shows more than a glint of his old spark. The one writer who didn’t go to Sudan, Giles Foden writes the most inspired piece in the book with the effervescent tract on the reasons behind Central African terrorism with ‘Weekenders’. The author of The King Of Scotland leaves all in his wake with this prophetic tale.

And finally Victoria Glendinning closes the book with a more straightforward travelogue piece that manages to be both accomplished and memorable. Ultimately this may not be worth the cover price but in places it does throw a flare into the troubled heart of Africa. Borrow it from the library and make a donation to a Sudanese Aid charity instead. (Paul Dale)

Though he draws the distinction between the substantial relationships (Jellybean Benitez. Sean Penn) and the ‘Boy Toys' who were picked up and discarded as Madonna scaled the greasy pole. Morton does little more than list

Throughout. Morton's efforts are scuppered by his contentious premise. which assumes that behind the penetrating hazel eyes. the many costumes and hairdos. some dark force is driving his heroine. As with Diana. Morton's previous subject. the author fails to even consider that the image has been carefully moulded around what is probably a fairly un-enigmatic personality.

Surely. it would have been more interesting to credit Madonna as a shrewd. tenacious businesswoman with an extraordinary talent for second-hand cultural innovation. to consider her as a product of her era rather than some mythical prophet for our times.

(Allan Radcliffe)

First writes

Debut novelists under the microscope. This issue.- Elizabeth Hay

Who she? A native of Owen Sound. Ontario. Elizabeth Hay is already a prolific short st0ry writer, whose work has won several awards. including the Canadian National Magazme Award Gold Medal For Fiction. She now lives and works in Ottawa.

Her debut A Student Of Weather is a tale of two sisters. set in the Saskatchewan prairies during the 1930s. Lucinda Hardy is conservative and loyal to her father. while Norma Joyce is the stronger. more wilful daughter. who longs for escape from the fierce dust storms of the prairies. Into this barren landscape comes yOung. worldly Maurice Dove (the student of weather). who ignites a fervent love in both sisters. The Question of which of the pair. if either. Maurice Will choose. forms the main thrust of the story.

Basically . . . While the central premise of her novel is hackneyed. Hay successfully explores. in spare. poetic prose. the link between passionate love and the attractions of the natural world. Although overall. the novel is a bit po-faced. the characters. particularly the memorable Norma Joyce Hardy. are sufficiently strong to sustain interest.

First paragraph test 'Some nights she still goes over every detail. beginning with the weather and proceeding to the drop of blood on the old sheet her quick wish for a man With straight white teeth and red lips and then his arrival. His voice outside. her hand on the coin of frostbite on his cheek. his gift of an apple.‘

(Allan Radcliffe)

I A Student Of Weather is pub/ished by The Women '3 Press priced Cl 0.99.