Fiction & Biography

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Sometimes a reviewer’s well-intended words come hurtling back to haunt him like some spectral slap in the face. Two years ago, while praising Scots journalist Ruaridh Nicoll’s debut, White Male Heart, for its potent depiction of violence borne out of isolation, I happened to mention that I felt the book‘s central love relationship lacked ‘blood and bodily fluids’. Telephoning the author for an interview some weeks later, I was greeted with the wry remark: “I'm working on the new book just now, trying to inject the blood and bodily fluids into it. Seems to be going fine so far.’ Touche.

In that eagerly anticipated second novel, Nicoll exchanges one claustrophobic setting - that of a remote spot in deepest, darkest Sutherland - for a small Galloway fishing village, its community struggling to come to terms with the sinking of one its boats, the Albatross, and the deaths of her crew. The story does open with the push-and-pull of a turbulent relationship, between sympathetic, inquisitive Betsy and her vainglorious fiance, who have travelled to the coast for a romantic weekend. But this ill-advised liaison proves something of a McGuffin in the novel‘s overall scheme, as Betsy’s ridiculously needy lover has soon packed his bags and stormed back to Edinburgh in a huff, leaving her to become increasingly involved in the community’s grief at the loss of the Albatross.

It's at this point that Nicoll‘s abiding concern with the ways seemingly close-knit communities can have their veneer of solidarity wrenched apart by an unexpected event comes sharply into focus. Betsy, the curious outsider, rotates between the community‘s central players, befriending Helen, partner of the Albatross’ Captain, and becoming intimately involved with the ship's troubled owner, Rego, both of whom become targets for the villagers' vengeful wrath.

As in White Male Heart, the book is distinguished by its colourful supporting cast, including violent, loyal Priest, the enigmatic landlady Martha, and Boyle, an outsider who, like Betsy, has a somewhat ambivalent

Nicoll cheerfully delivers the blood and bodily fluids

set of reasons for wishing to get involved in the catastrophe. The writing is lyrical and compelling and, for all the novel's emotive subject matter and intermittent violence, Nicoll‘s portrayal of grief, and the need to make sense of calamity is never less than convincing.

Another triumph then. And, just for the record: Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer may have made a lacklustre Tony and Maria, but that doesn’t make West Side Story any less glorious a film. (Allan Radcliffe)

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102 THE LIST -1 ‘5 8-»: .‘

Class ;7 Pate/S Vet's/fa: 7‘? 5 issue: The Summer before the Dark


BI‘ZH )RI“. 'l‘l It“. [MI-2K

Published 30 years ago.

What's the story Dons l e:;s.rig's; feminist classrc opens wrth Kate Brown. a suburban housewrfe and mother. at the Crossroads of her life. Her three grown up (‘lllkllffll have flown the nest. and her neurologist husband has been seconded to an American hospital for several months. Kate is encOur‘aged to take a job as an interpreter at an inteuiational conference. and playing mum to the delegates opens up further possibilities. including an eventful trip to Turkey and an affair With a yOung man named Jeffery iii Spain. Kate is both frightened and exhilarated by this journey of self discovery and her new-found independence.

What the critics said Renowned critic Walter Clemens wrote in Newsweek: ‘Lessrng's prose has the nerVOiis intensny and quick. impreSSionistrc lightness of some of DH Lawrence's later work. We are caught up in a rush of strong feelrng.’

Key moment Lessing's herorne is abruptly forced to confront her lost sense of self when young co- worker Maureen declares that she doesn't know what she wants as long as she doesn‘t end up like Kate or her own mother. Postscript Many of Lessmg's novels have been inspired by her conSrstent iconoclastic struggle against the conventions of her sex and Culture. The author, who took flight from her mother aged 15 to become a nursemard. has said of women of her mother's generation: ‘It was as if their lives came to a stop when they had children.”

First line test 'A woman stood on her back step. arms folded. wartrng.‘ (Allan Radcliffe)