ESSAY COLLECTION DENIS JOHNSON
Seek (Methuen £14.99) 000.
Have no doubt about it. Denis Johnson is a modern day William Saroyan. screaming into the darkness against the violinists in his head. This collection of essays may not be his best work. but heaven knows it's better than anything else that has come out of the States recently.
Subtitled RepOIts From The Edges Of America And Beyond. the stories. for the most part. carry a common theme: anger at US foreign policy with particular reference to the debacle that was Somalia (soon to be revisited in somewhat more patriotic shades with Ridley Scott's film Black Hawk Down).
There is some weak stuff here that all too often revises older. stronger tales but the good stuff is excellent. particularly when Johnson writes in blood-red fury with mini-treats like ‘The Civil War In Hell' and ‘The Militia In Me'.
The Stars Can Wait (Jonathan Cape £10) 0..
It takes millions of years for the light from stars to reach us. Let's hope that Jay Basu's talent
develops a little quicker. It's not that his tale of a
Polish village at World
War ll's onset is bad —
within the limited
confines that the author
sets himself, it achieves
. its goals adequately —
it's just that it lacks that
Gracian. a fifteen-year- old miner. is a stargazer at a time when a post-
. curfew stroll can earn
you a bullet from the German troops patrolling the area. The older brother he worships. Pawel, tries
to rein him in but isn’t much of an example
himself. His refusal to work down the mines antagonises family and villager alike. though he was. we discover. an outsider long before Hitler decided Poland looked kind of cute.
Tragic enough to make you think but not to spoil your day. (Colin Waters)
SOCIAL DRAMA ANNIE WANG Lili (Macmillan 529.99) .0.
In the credits at the end of her novel, Annie Wang says that it took ten years for her to finish Lili. English may
' not be her first language but that's still
a very long time for a book only 307 pages long.
Regardless. Wang's use of language is sparse and direct. capturing the spirit of her central character Lili. a rebellious but reticent Chinese girl living in Beijing as the events of Tiananmen Square come hurtling towards her. As the plot unfolds. the action begins to feel like a vehicle through which Wang can express her opinions about China. And so the characters become pawns: Lili begins a relationship with an American
86 THE LIST 17—31 Jan 2002
ARTHUR HERMAN The Scottish Enlightenment (4th Estate 5320) 00..
‘Oh, it was a Scot who invented that,’ is the frequent cry of
the patriotic pub bore on mention of every essential
innovation from the television and telephone to the steam engine, penicillin and golf. Of course, us Jocks have always believed ourselves the best thing since Mars Bars came fried, but devolution appears to have restored the confidence to promote Scottishness abroad as something more substantial than the traditional image of tartan-clad freedom ﬁghters and
single malt whisky.
lntriguingly, historian Arthur Herman is not 3 Scot; his daring thesis is that Scottishness is a state of mind, a way of living that has shaped modern civilisation. In The Scottish Enlightenment, he illustrates how Scotland’s early history, from the wars of independence to the restoration paved the
way for the development of this ‘Scottish miracle’.
It may have been widely assumed that the Act of Union with England in 1707 would subsume Scotland into a homogenous British culture, killing off our indigenous institutions, but Herman argues that the economic benefits of union allowed Scotland to mature into Europe’s best-educated nation.
Of course, the influence of philosophers like David Hume
and Adam Smith on modern political, moral and cultural thought is well-documented at home, but the impact of Scottish migration on powerful foreign cultures like North America has been hitherto overlooked. While it’s a pity that so many of the current crop of books about the national psyche focus on the past, with a big question hanging over what happens next, Arthur Herman’s book is a balanced, entertaining history, academic yet accessible. (Allan Radcliffe)
journalist as a means of contrasting east with west.
Lili is filled with insight. but it feels as though Wang's true voice never fully comes through; like the central character. her thoughts and beliefs are strong. but her actions leave more questions than answers.
(Louisa Pearson) PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER DAVID BALDACCI Last Man Standing (Simon & Schuster fit 2.99) 00
Last Man Standing
In his native America. David Baldacci is bigger than Jesus and JK Rowling. This state of affairs won‘t be altered by the views of this humble reviewer, but based on his latest doorstep of a novel. the extent of Baldacci's appeal is truly baffling. In brief. the plot of Last Man Standing sounds compelling; it follows a member of the FBI Hostage Rescue
Team called Web London, and his investigation into the drug raid that wiped out the other members of his team. Yet. even the most patient reader will struggle with Baldacci's tortuous writing style. the overblown description. heavy dialogue. and a level of po-faced machismo that verges on parody: the phrase ‘rappelling from choppers into thick forest really separated the men from the boys' is. amazingly, not being used ironically here.
Weighing in at 550 pages. but feeling more like 5000. this is holiday reading for someone with a year's sabbatical coming up.
RELATIONSHIP DRAMA SHYAMA PERERA
Do The Right Thing (Sceptre £10.99) 0...
Shyam and Chita meet in an internet chatroom. Living in India. they are married within the year. but due to an obscure clause in Shyam's father's will, they are forced to move to England to pursue careers in management consultancy. Is this starting to s0und strangely familiar? If not. read on . . .
Despite their idyllic marriage. they are
beset by problems when Sam. Chita's boss. takes a shine to her and begins pursing her relentlessly. Innocent that she is. Chita takes Sam at face value and makes a mistake that costs her dearly on the couple's eventual return to India. Got it yet?
OK. so it‘s chicklit. and yes. the heroine is strong, successful and
sickeningly perfect. But
as ever. Shyama Perera
manages to tell a . modern fairytale with
intelligence. wit and
charm. And when the
unexpected revelation comes. it is delicious in its elegant simplicity. (Anna Shipman)
ESSAY COLLECTION MICHAEL HOLROYD
Works On Paper (Little. Brown E20) .00
These days. your common bookstore biography can be defined as either an extended Hello feature.
THE: SCOTS‘ INVENTION OF THE MODERN WORLD
Ti L I G H T Ii N M Iii 'l'
Balanced, entertaining history
something nasty about Jeffrey Archer or another attempt to scrape Di off the dashboard. JOLlrllallSt and writer Michael Holroyd presents a collection of essays on biography as a craft. examining the way old- school writers dealt with the format when biography meant serious literature.
Holroyd. a retired biographer himself. confronts some of the criticisms made towards his peers. and offers some of his own prevrously published work on the histOry of the genre. The essays are engagingly written and informative. if outdated: you wonder what he'd say about Victoria Beckham's latest effort or any of the myriad other torletpaper hardbacks littering the shelves.
While Holroyd's expert academic eye ensures the value of this collection. it may be of