Fiction & Biography


Why Don’t You Stop Talking (Picador €15.99) 0...

Ali Smith knows a thing or two about bashing out a fine short story. So, when she appears on someone’s book jacket declaring herself to be ‘heartbroken’ at having finished it, you better listen up.

Jackie Kay, the author of prize-winning and audience-friendly Trumpet, is the recipient of this glowing accolade. And Kay certainly writes with one of the most subtle touches you’ll find in modern Scottish literature. So much so that you wish her characters would take it upon themselves to scream and shout a bit more; their agonies are all internalised, manifesting themselves in psychological disorders or weight problems or troubled race relations or simple, miserable loneliness. ‘How many people in my life do I let pass without speaking?’ from ‘Timing’ could stand for the driving emotion throughout the book.

Although precise dates are barely mentioned, Kay’s heroines appear to be rooted firmly in the here and now: Sky TV, Blockbuster videos and a barbed criticism of Coldplay sneak their contemporary way in. And she allows herself to dip toes into the surreal only once with the rabid ‘Shell’, the tale of one large, single woman’s tough time with her teenage son. At the tale’s end, she shrinks into the soil (where her ambition and happiness lie), literally becoming a slothful, hated tortoise. The Kafkaesque overtones are difficult to ignore.

The physical transformation, of course, is all in her head, as are the dreams of oceanic killing machines in ‘Shark! Shark!’ and the mobile cutlery in ‘The Woman With Knife And Fork Disorder’. What is out there for all to see are the strains in modern relations. Family, friends and foes all offer up problems to be overcome, traumas to be negotiated, arguments to be avoided.

In ‘The Woman With . . . lonely mother Irene tries to analyse just why her daughter Mary Ann is so hostile towards her. ‘lrene couldn’t put her hand on her heart and say that it was the hormones. Part of her, it seemed, had just been waiting, ever since she turned, what, nine? Was that fair? Were families fair?’

Although the defining tone of Why Don’t You Stop

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‘A stunner. I am heartbroken to have finished it' All Smith

Are you ready to be heartbroken?

Talking is darkly serious, Kay does allow herself the odd moment of playfulness. And who better than the old to filter that through, so the wisely cantankerous heroine of ‘The Oldest Woman In Scotland’ offers us some comic relief while Kay herself makes a light- hearted reference to Gordon Legge’s In Between Talking About The Football, by replacing the sport with ‘Elephant’.

You may not find yourself traumatised to have no new Jackie Kay tales left to read. But you should at the very least be interested in finding out what is next up her sleeve. (Brian Donaldson)

Over 600 poems and songs are in here. with extensive biographical detail and commentary on the works while even some Burns conspiracy theories

The result of tenacious creativity

84 THE LIST 17—31 Jan 2002

Is it time to put the bard to bed? Clearly not. Up and down the country on or around 25 January (this particular celebration appears rife for footering with), pipes will skirl, kilts will swirl and sheep's insides will be swallowed. digested and ejected with frivolous abandon.

But how many of those taking part in Burns Suppers across the land from Ayr to Aintree (yes. they will honour his name down south) can claim to have read every meaningful word he wrote during his 37 years? Andrew Noble and Patrick Scott Hogg certainly deserve to address a haggis or two having trawled through the nation's research centres to reveal the ‘tenacity' cf Burns' ‘creative drive'; an attribute which the pair can surely also lay claim.

get an airing. Lines that had previously been attributed to him by some early 20th century rascals are published here to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that they are simply too awful to be considered part of the canon. The section is amusingly entitled ‘Undetermined And Rejected Works'.

A must for scholars of Burns. though at 1000-plus pages may simply be just too daunting for those whose knowledge of his work is limited to a couple of lines from ‘Tam O' Shanter' and whole verses of 'Auld Lang Syne'. Yet. how can y0u possibly argue with that cost? Fifteen quid gets you the total oeuvre of the country's best-loved writer when you‘d be struggling to get a celebrity chef 's memoirs for the same price. (Brian Donaldson)

Shelf life

Classic novels revisited. This issue: The Hound Of The Baskervil/es

Published 100 years ago. What’s the story The best- known and finest of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock Holmes adventures concerns an investigation by the pipe- puffer and his elementary friend into the legend of the Baskervilles. The family claims to have been terrorised for generations by a gigantic. supernatural hound which stalks Dartmoor with fluorescent bile dripping from its jaws. Essentially a (forgive me) shaggy dog whodunnit. with a climax in which Holmes unmasks Baskerville Hall's human villain. DOyle brilliantly sustains the gothic terror right up to the Scooby Doo denouement.

What the critics said 'Every critic of the Novel who has a theory ab0ut the reality of characters in fiction. w0uld do well to consider Holmes.‘ (TS Elliot)

Key moment Holmes. apparently absent for most of the stOry, is thought by Watson to be in Baker Street ‘working out a case of blackmailing'. In a memorable scene. the cocaine-addicted ‘tec is revealed to have been gathering clues near the deadly Grimpen Mire. disguised as a mysterious old man. Postscript Bored with his creation and eager to write mOie 'serious' work. 00er sent Holmes and his arch enemy Professor Moriarty to their deaths over the Reichenbach Falls in 1893's The Final Prob/em. Obllged by public demand. he reswrected his hero nine years later.

First line test ‘Mr Sherlock Holmes. who was usually very late in the mornings. save upon those not infreQLient occasmns when he was up all night. was seated at the breakfast table.‘

(Allan Radcliffe)

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