POETRY COLLECTION DEREK WALCOTT White Egrets (Faber) ●●●●●
Derek Walcott’s White Egrets was years in the writing, its publication coming after last year’s Poetrygate, which resulted in his reputation being smeared through allegations of sexual harassment. If there was one way in which Walcott could get the last laugh, this powerfully intense collection is it. Journeying through time and place, linked by motif – birds ruffle the pages throughout, ‘the sea’s repetition’ envelops – and separated by sequence, Walcott, now 80, mines the ageing process continually, directly and most evocatively via nature. Though phlegm and diabetes rear distastefully up, ‘on the shore of the mind seaweed accumulates’ and beauty is ‘hunched like a crumpled flower’. Populated by elegies, White Egrets imparts a sense of keening for times
and people past, but certainly doesn’t lack the political bite for which Walcott is known: the poem sequence in reaction to Obama’s presidency is here, as are melancholy jabs at the ‘new makers/ of our history . . . prophets of a policy/ that will make the island a mall’, and the Caribbean’s complex colonial legacy. A monument to home, honed carefully from the rough-hewn bricks of ‘rice bags’, ‘codfish’ and ‘mangrove marsh’, Walcott’s linguistic dexterity begs to be imbibed aloud.
Present and absolutely correct are the pert little flashes of internal rhyme and half-rhyme (‘wriggling’ ‘niggling’ ‘jigging’); the well-placed alliteration (‘years yaw like yachts’) and the lapping of a wave-like cadence. The whole collection hangs sublimely and will, like ‘coming to the same sea by another road’, reward revisiting. (Peggy Hughes)
FAMILY DRAMA EMILY WOOF The Whole Wide Beauty (Faber) ●●●●● The debut novel of actor and playwright Emily Woof, The Whole Wide Beauty arguably betrays its author’s thespian background with the sheer self-absorption of her characters, densely layered but seemingly incapable of empathy outwith sudden, dramatic epiphanies. Katherine is an unhappily married mother-of-one, adrift from her former career as a dancer, working part-time as a teacher in a school for problem
Stephen, a talented poet and David’s protégé and they embark upon a potentially catastrophic affair. Woof writes with an engaging, lyrical style and her scrutiny of the constricting ties that bind families together is persuasive, even if for all the suppressed depths of torment, structurally at least, the story concludes a little too neatly. (Jay Richardson)
TRUE CRIME ALEX MCBRIDE Defending the Guilty (Viking) ●●●●● They might have a public image problem,
children. Like everyone in her family and beyond, she finds her personal desires swept up in the vocation of her charismatic father, the fund-raising force behind a Lake District poetry foundation. Until that is, she meets
but when a lawyer is the difference to you between freedom and incarceration, they can suddenly become closer than any family member or friend. In Defending the Guilty, criminal barrister Alex McBride charts his year-long pupilage at a major legal firm, and attempts to illustrate this curious, stressful and compromising experience of life. There are some incredible characters – rabbi- murdering psychopaths and gold bullion robbers included – but many more mundane ones: petty thieves, persecuted buskers and a whole host of desperate smackheads.
McBride’s commentary on what he sees to be a flawed system that requires lawyers to trick juries into acquitting plainly guilty people feels somewhat shoe-horned in as an afterthought. A more gifted and imaginative author might have used these experiences as the basis for a novel, rather than a linear true crime confidential. As it stands, for the offence of being pretty boring, this book is found guilty as charged. (Malcolm Jack)
SHORT STORY COLLECTION JAMES KELMAN If it is Your Life (Hamish Hamilton) ●●●●●
James Kelman’s fiction is a safehouse for the dispossessed and downtrodden; a soft and sympathetic place where the homeless, limbless or loveless find refuge. This short story collection from the Glaswegian socialist is typically lacking in sugar coating. We meet an old man, lying in hospital, guiltily lusting after the nurses ‘as if from
Reviews Books ALSO PUBLISHED
5 SERIOUS BOOKS OUT ON APRIL FOOLS DAY Joanne Limburg The Woman Who Thought Too Much The struggle against your demons is hard enough when they are physical entities. When they are simply destructive thoughts jangling around inside your own head it’s another matter. Here is an OCD survivor’s memoir. Atlantic. Ian Clayton Our Billie The tragic death by drowning of his own daughter led a father to the darkest corners of his soul, but from there Ian Clayton has produced a potent and celebratory memoir. Viking. Mick Jackson The Widow’s Tale A recently widowed woman heads off in her car to find solace and some resolution to a frustrating life. Faber. Fatima Bhutto Songs of Blood and Sword The Bhutto dynasty have taken a few hits down the years and here Benazir’s niece recalls some dark times as part of a rich feudal family in Pakistan. Jonathan Cape. Per Wastberg The Journey of Anders Sparrman Detailing the trials and tribulations of an 18th century apostle of a famed Swedish botanist who treks across Antarctica, Tahiti and South Africa. Granta.
from the books seem to be escaping into the real world . . . Carey is a clever
storyteller creating a new universe ruled by the power of the written word. Artist Peter Gross (who also worked with Carey on Sandman offshoot Lucifer) brings this rich world of literature to life, helping make what could be muddled and confused into a free flowing and wonderfully intelligent fable. (Henry Northmore)
nowhere’, and, equally cheerily, another patient slipping out of consciousness in ‘Death is not’. While the subject matter is as grimly gloss-free as previous novels A Chancer or Kieron Smith, Boy, the short format lends a sort of time-delay effect. His brief glimpses at a separated couple meeting up for a strained drink (‘A Sour Mystery’) or a gaffer- hating factory worker (‘talking about my wife’) seem at first like Kelman’s usual disjointed streams of thought. Given time, though, the stories creep up later when the book has been put down, revealing sad and awkward truths. (Claire Sawers)
FANTASY COMIC MIKE CAREY & PETER GROSS The Unwritten (Vertigo/Titan) ●●●●●
Obviously taking the boy wizard Harry Potter as its cultural and contextual inspiration, this new ongoing series from writer Mike Carey weaves a complex metafiction blurring the lines between fact and fantasy. In The Unwritten, Tommy Taylor is the star of a series of hugely popular fantasy novels written by one Wilson Taylor, whereas our protagonist Tom Taylor is the real life son and ‘inspiration’ for the titular character. However, characters
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