SI iORT STORIES REBECCA MILLER Personal Velocity (Doubleday £10) 0.“.
Bryna marries Milt because they both dislike cheese. Louisa slits her wrist rather than destroy her paintings. These are only moments. birt whatever the stories of these Outwardly very different women. are drawn in. utterly lll‘.()l‘/€‘(l in their lives and histories.
Wlth this astonishing debut. Rebecca Miller paints absorbing ponrarts of seven women. These are not nice women; they cheat on their husbands. they steal. they use men to make them feel good. But they are honest. and they command Our Sympathy. And the devil is in the detail. the resenances that trirly bring these women alive.
Julianne imagines what life w0uld have been like had she not married. and pictures herself composing a poem. gazing out of the Window. ‘a Cigarette between her fingers. No. no cigarette. Coffee'. Each is a separate StOry, but the book reads like a novel. Personal Velocity is not so much a stream of character StLlCtieS. more a beautifully crafted tapestry of humanity. (Anna Shipman)
oar re TRAVELOGI IE ECCA
AITKENHEAD The Promised Land (4th Estate 12.99) 0...
Despite the Travels in Search Of The Perfect E sirbtitle. Decca Aitkenhead manages to avoid the traditional traveller's diary and chemical diatrihes. detailing instead one person's niisadventuies into an tinnei‘vrngly amoral nocturnal world. Whether it's the
96 THE LIST '3‘. .J.:r' I-‘.
racketeers and racists of South Africa or the exhausted tourism and exhaustive prostitution of Thailand. there's always something to put Aitkenhead's often failed attempts at clasping some class As into perspective.
Keen to avoid the pitfall of extolling the virtues or comedowns of the ecstasy experience. she instead gives us a shambolic and uneven account of various countries (in)famous for their associations with drugs. Despite this misleading premise. The Promised Land is an oddly engaging adventure. and while happily cast as a naive chancer. Aitkenhead's insights into the clique- iness of British clubbing or the misguided liberalism of ‘travellers' are nonetheless spot on.
Neither an inspiration nor deterrent for drug- taking or international escapades. this turns out to be an unexpected delight.
RELATIONSHIP DRAMA BRIAN GALLAGHER Junk Male (Orion $312.99) 00
l: ...... ca
Hero of the lad-mag lit pages with Feng-Shui Junkie. Brian Gallagher is back with his difficult second novel. And it lives up to that billing. Difficult. Set in Dublin. Junk Male tells the tale of Ellen and Joel. The story itself is one of deception (Ellen's non-exrstent pregnancy)
TRAVEL DRAMA MATTHEW KNEALE
Mr Foreigner (Weidenfeld & Nicolson £10) 0.0
English Passengers was published in 2000, when Matthew Kneale was entering his 40th year. It was an immense critical and popular success, winning the Whitbread Prize; not a bad way for an author to celebrate encroaching middle-age. The reissued Mr Foreigner (first published as Whore Banquets) was Kneale’s first novel, written when he
was a mere sapling of 27. And it shows.
The tale examines the same themes that English Passengers mined so effectively - travel and cultural difference - but does not do nearly as much with them. Daniel is a selfish but likeable loner who has been having a strained relationship with one of his ex-students while working illegally as a teacher in Japan. It’s all perfectly believable (this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as Kneale is a compulsive traveller, having visited 82 countries)
and urgently readable.
But despite its tone of addictive menace and a great opening line (‘Keiko Harada was wearing Mickey Mouse socks again’), Mr Foreigner feels a little slight. We rarely get a glimpse of any perspective beside Daniel’s, and the coincidences that drive the plot are too tenuous to be naturalistic, but not ridiculous enough to be surreal.
By The Author of ENGLISH PASSENGERS I
Not ridiculous enough to be surreal
The book ends up recalling, but not trumping, that master of backpacker’s paranoia, Alex Garland, as well as the more revered likes of Franz Kafka. But while ardent fans of Kneale may enjoy a quick run through Mr Foreigner, the rest of us will be better off waiting for his next novel proper. (James Smart)
and hiding mistakes (the useless Joel's loss of their nest egg).
What follows is a totally unbelievable tale. with qurrky characters that are there. it seems. to enforce a personality on a nonsensical plot. As events unfold y0u find yourself wondering why the characters don't realise what is geing on and the twist at the end is more predictable than Man Utd winning the Premiership.
Junk Male does have one redeeming feature. in that some of the individual conversations between inebriated father. useless son. philandering friend and wife with a secret do give you flashes of Gallagher's debut. But this is more junk than male. (Aly Burt)
PHILOSOPHICAL MEMOIR ROBERT
TWIGGER Being A Man
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson Cl 2.99) O...
Being A Man is not an ordinary book. But then. Robert Twigger doesn't
write ordinary books. Having prevrously explored subjects as diverse as Aikido. snake hunting and an obscure breed of deer. Twrgger now turns his scattin entertaining prose on a much bigger conundrum: that of how to go about being a man. as he puts it. 'in the lousy modern world'.
Part adventure. part pseudo-philosophical tract and part memOir. Being A Man IS a thought- provoking and freQLiently very funny read. as the author attempts to seek some framework in today's society on which to pin his manhood (not literally you understand).
Whether he's rec0unting stories of shooting a pigeon in his back garden. learning how to bullfight in Spain or the helplessness he feels as his wife gives birth. Twigger's self-deprecating style and awareness of his own hypocrisy and the parad0xical nature of modern men breathe life into every page.
SHORT STORIES RICHARD YATES The Collected Stories (Methuen $317.99) I...
'Write about what you know' is an instruction given to many an aspiring author. Richard Yates was a fine writer who did precisely that. After serving in France during the Second World War. the New
Yorker pursued a career as a journalist. academic and scriptwriter as well as writing speeches for Bobby Kennedy.
Material from these experiences. plus his spells in divorce c0urts and TB sanatoriums. provides the subject as well as the backdrop to many of Yates' vivid. authentic narratives. These tales of deception. frustration and misunderstanding are handled with a rare empathy by an author who clearly believes the American Dream to be just that.
The 27 stories on offer may be limited in terms of subject matter. but they are observed with an emotion and an attention to detail that is often breathtaking. In his introduction. novelist Richard Russo notes Yates' status as a 'writer's writer‘ and his influence on the likes of Raymond Carver. but he's a damn fine author whoever's reading him. (James Smart)
ESSAY COLLECTION SUSAN SONTAG Where The Stress Falls (Jonathan Cape £17.99) .0.
Formidable American writer and Cultural commentator Susan Sontag claimed that a successful writer is 'someone who is interested in everything'. In this collection of essays from the last twenty years. she deals with a vast array of her favourite works. making this an invaluable book for the handful of people who happen to be familiar with Fassbinder's Ber/in A/exanderp/atz or enjoyed the poetry of Marina Tsvetaeva. Unfortunately. Sontag shares with most American academics a tendency towards verbal effusion that actually obscures her subjects further rather than illuminating them. Her response to a Survey on the nature of intellectuals and their role in shaping society's conscience is particularly verbose and self-congratulatory. Elsewhere. Sontag's