www.list.co.uk/books Reviews Books
VIGNETTE COLLECTION SIMON ARMITAGE Seeing Stars (Faber) ●●●●●
Billed as a poetry collection, this book raises one obvious question: what exactly is poetry then? For here are short tales, monologues, anecdotes and musings rather than anything approximating verse as we know it. But Simon Armitage is not a writer bound wholly to convention, even stretching to sanctioning a garish Koons-like image on the cover of Seeing Stars. Whatever the West Yorkshireman, tipped as a future Laureate, has given us here, the effect is largely beguiling (though pedants might point to his story about famous Dennises and note that Thatcher and Healey have the just the one ‘n’ in their forename).
From the eponymous tale’s clash in a pharmacy to the ill-fated wedding in a zoo, and from the dad talking to his kid’s class to the criminal psychologists turned shoplifters, these are occasionally laugh- out loud, often uncomfortable stories. But in the main, it only makes you yearn for a longer, bolder Armitage work. (Brian Donaldson)
DRAMA REISSUE AUSTIN WRIGHT Tony & Susan (Atlantic) ●●●●●
New York novelist Austin Wright created this clever, multi-layered novel in 1993, to
reasonable acclaim and the acquisition of film rights. Then it disappeared, out of print and forgotten until somebody saw fit to rescue it. Which is just as well, because Tony & Susan is a literary gem. Despite sounding like a Mills & Boon couple, the eponymous characters actually exist in different fictional universes. Susan is our protagonist, a Chicago- based teacher in her late 40s struggling to find a reason to keep her second marriage alive, while maths professor Tony lives inside an unpublished novel by Susan’s ex- husband, Edward, who seeks her opinion on his debut tome. As a reader, we vicariously share Susan’s concern about the terrifying ordeal Tony endures in Nocturnal Animals, worry about the outcome and analyse Edward’s talent as a writer. But while Susan is our road in, Wright saves his most thrilling plotlines and beautifully crafted prose for Tony. (Kelly Apter)
SUPERHERO COMIC MARC GUGGENHEIM & BRANDON BRAGA Iron Man vs Whiplash (Marvel UK) ●●●●●
5 UPCOMING BOOKS TO HELP YOU BONE UP ON HISTORY Richard Aldrich GCHQ This bastion of secrecy has its doors flung open for an unvetted account from its origins in wartime code ops to more recent controversies surrounding surveillance and ID cards. HarperPress.
Norman Stone The Atlantic and Its Enemies Subtitled ‘A Personal History of the Cold War’, this offers an opinionated and entertaining analysis of how the US, UK and its allies faced up to the ‘threat’ of communism. Allen Lane. Nigel Hamilton American Caesars Modeled on Suetonius’ Twelve Caesars, this is a group biog of the dozen presidents who have shaped US and world policy since 1945. Bodley Head.
William Rosen The Most Powerful Idea in the World ‘A Story of Steam, Industry and Invention’ kicks off on 25 July, 1698, the day a rather special patent was granted. Jonathan Cape. Max Arthur Last of the Few Subtitled ‘Final Words from the Battle of Britain Pilots’, this is an oral record of those souls who took to the skies 70 years ago. Virgin Books.
While Iron Man 2 continues to rake in the cash at your local cinema, it seems the perfect time to dip into this new collection from Marvel and to launch a new Whiplash much more in line with the movie villain (not the old classic S&M-themed supervillain Mark Scarlotti who later became Blacklash: keep up at the back). After Iron Man seemingly wipes out his home town of Volstok in Russia, Anton Vanko crafts a suit, complete with devastating
electrical whips, and sets out for retribution on our Armoured Avenger. It’s a fairly generic story of revenge that ploughs on at a fair clip. The hi-tech confrontations are fun but motivations and character development are kept at a superficial level. It lacks the charm of the latest blockbuster (Robert Downey Jr was born to play Tony Stark/Iron Man) but certainly provides the necessary action. (Henry Northmore)
13–27 May 2010 THE LIST 33
HISTORICAL DRAMA ANDREW O’HAGAN The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe (Faber) ●●●●●
Featuring one of the more florid novel titles of the year, Andrew O’Hagan’s shaggy dog story hasn’t prevented some commentators tipping the London-based North Ayrshire-bred writer as a strong bet to reach the Booker shortlist for the first time since his 1999 appearance with Our Fathers. It’s certainly a story you want to pat on the head, concerning as it does Mafia Honey aka Maf, a Maltese terrier which lived the celebrity lifestyle in early 60s America, being shunted from owner to owner form Natalie Wood to Marilyn Monroe via the angry arms of Ole Blue Eyes himself.
It’s while fielding the loving attentions of Norma Jeane that Maf
experiences his greatest highs (though having the hots for Lassie sounds as though it comes a close second), as he is sole witness to many of the doomed star’s hellish trials and tribulations, including some heavy acting classes with Lee Strasberg and a bunch of weighty Freudian sessions on her shrink’s sofa. Along the way Maf comes within a doghair’s breadth to some of the iconic figures of the era including Jack Kennedy, Roddy McDowall and Edmund Wilson and there is endless philosophising about art and humans, all from the viewpoint of this all-seeing pooch. Many a footnote and some random lists break the flow which might be
alluding to the scattergun mind of the average canine. The whole effect is impressive rather than awe-inspiring leaving us feeling that there is a better novel out there which captures the neuroses and paranoias of a woman who defined not just an era but an entire century. (Brian Donaldson)
ART HISTORY PAUL RENNIE Modern British Posters (Black Dog Publishing) ●●●●● As its title hints, with allusions to the gallery and the auction house, Paul Rennie’s intellectually rigorous, aesthetically pleasing book deals with a very specific type of art in Britain from the mid- 20th century. Rennie’s weighty tome details through trajectory and semantics the genesis of British poster art from 1915 (the year that the Design and Industries
Association was formed, an organisation that was to usher in the post World War I modernisation in visual communication) and 1969, the year of Cramer Saatchi’s famous ‘Pregnant Man’ poster.
Rennie’s anthropological and academic ambitions soon become something far more fun. He pulls in the Enlightenment, abstraction, surrealism and what he calls the ‘pop assembly’, leading us through the euphoria and innocent pleasures
of education, reform and regeneration to capitalist gain as the advertising industry came of age. This is a splendid book, one told with energy and without condescension. (Paul Dale)