Fiction & Biography

RURAL PSYCHODRAMA ALICE SEBOLD The Lovely Bones iPicador £12.99: .0000

This book starts with the rape and murder of a teenager named Suzie Salmon. A tough opening certainly, but it’s not gory nor indulgent - this is neither a thriller nor a horror story - although the act from which the narrative germinates is horrific.

Framed within the confines of a small US town in the early 705, the girl’s death - and the inability to recover more than an elbow from the vague murder scene - shakes the family and neighbourhood to its roots. Admittedly, so far there is little to set this apart for your run of the mill crime pulper but perspective is everything here. The splatter voyeurism of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho is one point of view and from over the shoulder of the gumshoe investigating the crime like Walter Mosley is another, but from the victim herself is an altogether more intriguing prospect.

Suzie is the narrator, a naive innocent who is omniscient while in a godless heaven and, from this inspired angle, traces the events that unfold around, because and in spite of her death. The theological angles are really just a distraction however, as Alice Sebold explores just how families are inextricably linked even after a death and how age can affect the grieving and recovery process in a myriad of ways.

Her prose is painfully clear and uncontrived, as would be expected from someone projecting him or herself into the head of a pragmatic youth. Sebold’s teens are not buffed like Buffy or even particularly prosaic. They are insightful at times but this is no Dawson’s Croak. Her teenagers - Suzie’s siblings and school mates - call to mind those characters on the cusp that the likes of Edmund White paint so


Suzie lies beyond the grave in a state of permanent teenagedom, growing (albeit not physically) and learning about life and love in death. Her only indulgence is to walk

as a spectre among the living.

With the events which have unfurled in Soham, many of the situations and reactions contained here ring with

‘g' '1 , authority,

nd daring. She’s a one-of-aL-kind writcr' JONATHAN FRANziax. Air'rijioii or THE CORREt.'I'ION$

A beautifully simple evocation of life after death

of injustice and fury is.

What Sebold expresses so eloquently through this patient narrative is just how different people respond. These responses are realistically complex: her father’s

confusion and obsession with the murderer (a neighbour)

uncomfortable familiarity. Thankfully, the media hysteria with time.

injected into the heart of the Wells/Chapman murder investigation is not part of the equation here but the sense



Man and Wife iHarperCollins €16.99 0...

tony ParsonS mm and tl’lfl

mm: am] 120) Acres of poignant wit

100 THE LIST :3 ' 'f-m, ’.'

How easy it is to disii‘rss a writer like Tony Parsons. Seeiitingly burned Out by a life of journalstsc excess as a music hack in the 70s and 805 and hign'y remunerated tabloid columnist during the 908. the worst thing that has been said of him in recent times (and there have been plenty) is that there is something vaguely conservative about him.

COUld it be the golf socks he was spotted weamg on the dearly departed Late Review or the sad Sinatra ObseSSion or the cheeky boy sh grin he fiasnes after chucking a casual ll'lSUlt at drunk women or ‘fevrmos"? Whatever 't {8. one simp’ , fact remains: Tony Parsons is a ‘."e writer. Al‘Cl the reason he shows off ‘Z.t."lO'.";(3T wild accusatioi‘. often made is because he has the inherent talent to (it so w:tl‘, f'air.

And as such. he is possibly the most credible talent to worry the business end of the bestseller charts on a consistent basis. Nick Hornby may be his close ally and co'nrade in the field

and her mother’s delusion, depression and denial while the children wither in Suzie’s shadow or eventually flower

The Lovely Bones explains in a simple and beautiful way just how there is life after death. (Mark Robertson)

but Parsons is now hitting more of the right bookish buttons than the dome- headed Gunner.

In Man and Wife. (his fluid follow-up to the gloriously successful HornbyeSQUe Man and Boy) we have the well-meaning if largely useless Harry Silver pondering on his lives. old and new. Having split from first wife Gina after an inadvisable one-night lie- down. he has become a “Sunday dad‘ to his beloved Pat. A rash trip to Paris ends in near-calamity and the further threat of his son being taken by Gina to live in America does little to aid Harry's wellbeing. But at least he has the salve of a new spOuse. the Texan Cyd. to get him through his self- inflicted woes.

Undoubtedly. there will be many who see this as cosy triteness but Wllltlll Parsons' pages are contemporary pearls of \.‘.’|S(l()ll‘.. nudged along with acres of wit and poignancy Forget the next big thing. Stick with the erudite establishment. lBi‘ian Donaldsoni

Shelf life

Classic novels revisited. This issue: Ulysses

Published 80 years ago. What’s the story Along with A Brief History of Time. James Joyce's Ulysses ranks as one of the great unread shelf dwellers. Ostensibly a day in the life of Jewish media salesman Leopold Bloom. the novel's 18 segments vaguely correspond to episodes in Homer's Odyssey. The novel's vivid invocation of Dublin is unrivalled. though the more esoteric monologues should compel readers to return the tome to its rightful place behind the bathroom door.

What the critics said ‘lt is the book from which none of us can escape.‘ was TS Eliot's ambivalent assessment.

Key moment The final scene is a lengthy unpunctuatet‘l monologue in which Leopold's sensuous wife Molly affirms her love of life and the pleasures of sex With her lover. This celebrated episode has inspired a play starring Eartha Kitt. and a hit single by bonkers siren Kate Bush.

Postscript When the painter Frank Budgen asked how Ulysses was progressing. Joyce replied that he had been working hard all day and had completed two sentences. On being asked if he was struggling to find the right words. the notorious perfectionist replied that he had the words already. but was ‘seeking the perfect order of the words in the sentence.

First line test ‘Stately. plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead. bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.‘ (Allan Radcliffe)