Absolute Friends (Hodder & Stoughton €18.99) 0...

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The advancing years of an author are supposed to turn youthful anger into something altogether more considered and relaxed. Well, exactly the opposite appears to be happening to septuagenarian John Le Carre if this. his 19th novel. is anything to go by. Absolute Friends is an absolute tirade against the hypocnsy of modern governments and multinational corporations. and is an inspiring read with an impact that lasts well beyond the final pages of its tragi-comic tale. The story is spread in masterly style over 50 years. from the ridiculous heights of the Cold War to the dark days after 9/1 1, and concerns the covert careers of Ted Mundy (an English public schoolboy) and Sasha (an enigmatic German political extremist). The depiction of time and place is utterly exquisite throughout and Le Carre juxtaposes careful. pinpoint plotting with bursts of scintillating vitriol across the years and the countries. A vital and vibrant book. (Doug Johnstone)


The Gangster we are all Looking For (Picador 5212.99)


A semi-autobiographical tale of a y0ung girl who emigrates from Vietnam to California in the late 70s with her father, Le Thi Diem Tht'Jy's novel paints a vivid picture of the difficulties people experience creating a new life in an alien culture. In addition to this. the family have to deal with the ghosts of

their past: the brother who drowned at a young age. the horrors of the war with America and memories of people they left behind.

This is a poignant st0ry of dislocation and exile. told in a rather detached and fragmentary voice that relates a series of significant moments rather than a continuous narrative. The prose can be beautiful and contains many lingering images. but sometimes feels a little disjointed as the st0ry jumps from one event to another. The characters' sense of displacement is enhanced by language that often reads like a translation. perhaps from a worldview that English cannot fully encompass.

(RaChael Street)

CULTURAL GUIDE PETER IRVINE Scotland the Best (HarperCollins $216.99 h/b; £13.99 p/b) O...

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Peter Irvine‘s fat guide to everything that's great about Scotland has been described by one national newspaper as the tome that ‘makes all other guides to Scotland redundant'. Such an emphatic endOrsement is b0und to be a lurid red rag to a particularly incensed bull for those of us who spend the waking hours struggling to make Our stylish pocket guides as essential as possible.

In truth, Peter Irvine

has skilfully dodged mumps and moans about what has been left out of his big red book. by making it determinedly elitist rather than comprehensive and. in that sense. it is a very thorough piece of work. As plain as Mother's Pride bread. unfettered by photos or fancy typology. the guide is wide in scope and extremely easy to use. whether you seek a beautiful Highland retreat for a night or two. the best place to try a wee hip or a slab of tablet or info on the best Scottish books and films.

(Allan Radcliffe)

MUSIC PROFILE KEITH TOPPING The Complete Clash (Reynolds 8. Hearn €14.99) 0..

'The only band that matter.‘ said the ungratefully dead Lester Bangs and this book will remind you why. Here are but five reasons. Firstly. the Clash never

SOCIAL DRAMA JHUMPA LAI-IIRI The Namesake (Flamingo £15.99) .000

It’s been grumbled a few times that when a young author scores a phenomenal success with their first published work, one thing is certain. Those misanthropic spoilsports ‘the critics’ will be waiting patiently in line to trample on any subsequent work that author has the audacity to put out, often regardless of its merit. But in the case of British-born, US- educated Bengali writer Jhumpa Lahiri - who won the Pulitzer Prize when a literary dummy-sucker of 32 with her short story collection Interpreter of Maladies any serious attempt to rubbish her inspirational first novel would be spurious.

Lahiri’s debut poignantly depicts the painful readjustment of the American immigrant, through two generations of the Ganguli family. The book opens in mid-60$ Boston, with young, bewildered Ashima about to give birth to her first child, miles away from her family and familiar customs, with only distant student husband Ashoke at her side. In accordance with Bengali tradition, Ashima’s grandmother has been charged with naming the baby boy. But an accident of fate leaves the child nameless until American

did Top of the Pops but TotP did them; when 'Bankrobber' hit the charts Legs 8 Co dressed in gangster garb. chucked money in the air and wiggled to the tune. Secondly, CBS suits hated that song, claiming it sounded like all of Bowie's records played backwards at once.

Thirdly. Strummer once met Vince Taylor. 503 rocker and inspiration behind Ziggy Stardust. 'He talked to me for over five hours about how the Duke and Duchess of York were planning to kill him with poisoned chocolate cake.‘

bureaucracy compels Ashoke to nickname him ‘Gogol’ after his

favourite author.

Fourthly. the intro to ‘Clampdown' ‘What are we gonna do now?‘ was nicked from Spike Milligan. And fifthly. an early Nit/1E put-down said they were ‘the kind of garage band who should be speedily returned to the garage. preferably with the motor running.‘ (Rodger Evans)

RELATIONSHIP DRAMA STELLA DUFFY State of Happiness (Virago $312.99) 00

Stella Duffy is probably best known for a string of crime novels. but for this outing she's taken on a very different kind

Lahiri leaps ahead with an evocative debut


of fiction. State of Happiness is an introspective character- led novel, and one that unfortunately tends towards ponderous musings on the nature of love. life and death. TV news producer Jack and cartographer Cindy fall in love and move from New York to Los Angeles. When Cindy is diagnosed with a serious illness their priorities change. and most of this book deals with how couples relate to each other in adversity.

Such a theme needs careful handling, however. and Duffy tends to come on heavy-handed with the emotion and pathos. There is a decent map- making metaphor in here somewhere (the desire to create order from the chaos of life etc). but it struggles to get out in what become increasingly laboured passages of anger. sorrow. confusion and heartbreak.

(Doug Johnstone)

Thus, the book starts out as a vivid depiction of the lonely displacement suffered by newcomers to an alien culture as the Gangulis’ attempts to retain shreds of their cultural heritage are undermined by somewhat caricatured American jobsworths. But it’s when the baton of the novel passes to the brilliantly iconoclastic Gogol that Lahiri’s exploration of the desire to assert individual identity is rendered most powerfully and lyrically. (Allan Radcliffe)

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