SCIENTIFIC NOVEI- BENJAMIN MARKOVITS The Syme Papers (Faber E f 2.99) 00
There's been a rekindling of interest in soience history of late. a subject tackled patchily here by debut novelist Benjamin MarkoVits. The wrong turns and dead ends that scientists take make for fascinating material and Markovits does make some interesting points in this lengthy novel. but he also cloaks much of his good work in an irritatineg overwritten and overblown style that often tempts you to throw The Syme Papers in the fire.
The book switches in time and place between Douglas Pitt. a struggling science historian trying to uncover the story Sam Syme. an unknown 19th century geologist. and Syme himself as described in the jOIlTIIEIIS of a friend. with Pitt believing Syme to be the inspiration for modern geology theory but unable to prove it. But the writing is verbose. slack and skittish. With the book's main themes — the scientist's search for immortality and what constitutes a truly original idea — obfuscated as a result. (Doug Johnstone)
POIII'ICAI ANAIYSIS STUART SIM Fundamentalist World (Icon Books 5‘. t 2.99) 0...
It's a bleak picture that Stuart Sim paints. Far from being in decline. as previously believed. he argues that the fundamentalist mindset is stronger and more widespread than ever. And he argues very convincingly. As well as giVing a history of fiindamentalism. and proViding ample eVidence of its current
manifestations in religion. politics. economics. nationalism and general thought. he explores the reasons behind its resurgr-znce and makes predictions for its future.
Fti/i(1(’i/7ie/it.'ili'st World: The New Dark Age of Dogma is a challenging book. but while it might not be as easy to read as. say. a Michael Moore. Sim's direct style does make this worthy and weighty thesis accessible to the general reader. However. there's no excuse for lines such as 'there's not much fun in fun(Iamentalism'. Humour isn't his strong point then. but With his slightly pessimistic conclusion that all we can do to push back the rising tide of fundanientalism is ‘Just say no'. who's laughing anyway? (Kirsty Knaggs)
SOCIAL DRAMA SEAN O’REILLY The Swing of Things (Faber $719.99) 00
To paraphrase Dr Hook: if somebody said you had ‘a small optimistic arse'. would you hold it against them? With such an inscrutable and. well. cheeky use of words. you might think its writer merits the thumbs up. So to speak. Alas. given the deficit of humour and humanity here. it is impossible to be anything but critically tight-arsed.
A body in the river. (I(2iii()iis; fr()iii Itl() iizis;t.
IRA operatives. Russian Mafiosi. Sartrean philosophy. sex. drugs and swans: certainly. the ingredients promise much. Shame. then. that the delivery is so (‘Iisapi)ointing. Yes. the writing is good. crisp and free from cliche. but the characters are so unlovable as to be anti- anti—heroes and the plot makes most sense if you read it back to front. Like Niall Criffiths Without the gut-punishing hit or lryine Welsh minus that nasty wit. Sean O'Reilly's merciless moral grime and 2/1 2' ennui result only in boredom. Optimistic. my arse. (Rodger Evans)
SIIOHI STORY (IOI l I (ZIION
ZZ PACKER Drinking Coffee Elsewhere (Canongate 5999) O...
Ihough frequently misguided. the hard weathered stoicism of ttl(} (:Iizirzi(:t()rs; f(>;itiir(>(l in this short story collection are so unseiitimentally and finely drawn that you seldom cease feeling for
HI I AIIONSI III’ [DRAMA
The White Stuff (Viking $712.99) .0.
Everyone hates social workers, right? In public esteem terms, they score lower than politicians, music journalists, and temporary jungle- dwelling celebs. Even social workers hate social workers. So, it makes perfect, if perverse, sense for youth-worker-turned-poet- turned-author Simon Armitage to
comm coo-cu gunmen a m
their very souls. A skilfully sustained and often devastatingly humorous treatment of what it means to be young. black. female and American. these women are a curious mix of prodigious intelligence and crushing naivety. They are forced to the margins by white patriarchy. and to silent screams by a self satisfied church and inner-City education that struggles to acknowledge black
homosexuality and black
Taken together. there's perhaps too much innocence in the collection, particularly in regard to sexuality, but there's no denying 22
make the ‘hero’ of his second novel T
a social worker named Felix, AKA
the Corduroy Kid.
With unvaulting ambition and common or garden centre angst, Felix is somewhat anally retentive, but basically what you might call a sweetheart. He is also Ikea-phobic, the Swedish Cult of Assemble-Thy- Self bringing nothing but a feeling of self-dissemny and worse still, a pain akin to a ‘toothache in his testicles’. Ouch. What Felix wants out of life is stability (yeah, enough lkea gags already) and . . . well, he’s none too sure. His partner is far more focused, her chances of motherhood reducing with each tick and took, and frustrated by his perceived emotional
semi-detachment from the race to
Packer's fine eye for imagery and description of lives confined to more role-play. especially in the title story and opening tale. ‘Brownies'. Hard yet humane. presenting physical molestation With the same detachment as routine errand runs. this is quietly angry. often pamfully wry fiction.
POI ITICAI SAIIRI‘ MIKHAIL KONONOV
The Naked Pioneer Girl (Serpents Tail 579.99) .00.
Fifteenyear-old private soldier Maria Mukhina (aka Midge) is a regimental vﬂtore. It's World War II and on the country dirt tracks of the USSR. death is ineVitable but Midge's Wide-eyed patriotism and accidental insight is not. Between campaigns she comforts a succession of foolish. louche and idiotic military men on hei bed of hessian and mai/e. all in the name of Papa Stalin. She's the Lolita of the light brigade. Though completed in
the early 1990s (after ten years in the writing). Mikhail Kononov's superb anti-war satire was withheld from haVing a homeland publication until 2001 (mainly due to the taboo-breaking subiect matter). The Naked Pioneer Girl is clearly a major work of Russian literature. only undermined in its English language incarnation by the way Andrew Bromfield's translation occasionally buckles under Kononov's swathe of NabokoVian hyperbole and archaisms. A Vicious. hilarious indictment of generals and their guiding principles. (Paul Dale)
Armitage chips in with a finely pitched tale
Armitage writes with gentle humour, 8 poet’s empathy and love of places. He makes you like Felix because you know he’ll do the right thing if not necessarily in the right way, wholesale principles not being so wholesome as to induce goody-goodness nausea. The title, by the way, refers to what the Ken Starr report charmingly referred to as ‘the human stain’, the 10ccs worth of protein intended as egg-seeking missiles. The thwacking of golf balls imagery is maybe a metaphor too far in this context but otherwise the pitching is right and the putting a delight. (Rodger Evans)
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