Books Reviews

GRAPHIC NOVEL DANIEL CLOWES Wilson (Jonathan Cape) ●●●●●

It’s heartening to know that Daniel Clowes isn’t turning his back on comics, despite writing movies in earnest since his Oscar nomination for adapting his own graphic novel, Ghost World. Clowes’ current movie projects include The Death Ray for Jack Black, the animated Megalomania for Michel Gondry and Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (a remake of the shot-for-shot reworking of Indy’s first adventure made by kids), all of which sound very promising. Meanwhile, one of our finest contemporary cartoonists has found time to write and draw his first graphic novel featuring all-new material, ie not strips collected from issues of his occasional comic, Eightball.

Like many of Clowes’ creations (Dan Pussey, Enid Coleslaw, Random

Wilder), Wilson is a hideously and hilariously opinionated misanthrope. In this case, a middle-aged loner living in suburban California who’s given to engaging strangers in one-sided lofty discourses on the human condition that invariably conclude with an uncalled-for unpleasant put- down such as, ‘hey, shithead, I’m talking to you!’ Wilson’s miserable life unfolds in a series of one-page anecdotes, which Clowes’ develops into a bleak storyline involving bereavement, estranged family, incarceration and the loss of a pet. As with his antecedents, Wilson is a mouthpiece giving voice to his creator’s cynical and incisive view of the decline of western civilisation. ‘When you imagine the future,’ Wilson opines, ‘you always think there’s going to be more stuff, but really there’s just different stuff, and it’s never the stuff you were hoping for.’ So true. (Miles Fielder)

DRAMA SEQUEL ALAN WARNER The Stars in the Bright Sky (Jonathan Cape) ●●●●● While Alan Warner has described the choice of The Sopranos to be given the sequel treatment as ‘vulgar’, he has penned a follow-up which can best be dubbed ‘tasteful’. While the chattering class of his ‘98 tale of female mayhem have retained the collective ballsiness that ran rampant through their maiden misadventure, Warner’s writing has moved on, developing a precision and elegance that few of

moan and plot against each other while attempting to go on a late summer holiday in 2001. But happily, this leaves Warner free to wield his substantial descriptive powers and allows him to lend us, for nearly 400 pages, his ear for a tender yet piercing dialogue exchange. (Brian Donaldson) SOCIAL DRAMA BENJAMIN MARKOVITS Playing Days (Faber) ●●●●●

Though not explicitly billed as a memoir, Benjamin Markovits’ new novel appears to be

his Scottish contemporaries can even think about matching. The story might be

anorexic thin, as his girls (now twentysomethings still searching for life through the bottom of a Guinness) bitch and

42 THE LIST 27 May–10 June 2010

memoir. Kay was born in Edinburgh to a Scottish mother and Nigerian father and adopted by card-carrying Glasgow communists at the age of two. This fascinating book addresses the search for her birth parents, ostensibly a simple enough tale familiar to many adopted children, but Kay’s perceptive eye and keen humane spirit imbue it all with wide-eyed wonder for the human condition. Delivered in a fractured narrative that mirrors not only Kay’s unusual family tree but also the obscure nature of memory, Red Dust Road is a very funny and occasionally profound look at what goes into making us who we are; an exploration of the joys and foibles of family life from a truly warm- hearted and loveable writer. (Doug Johnstone) SHORT STORIES LOUISE STERN Chattering: Stories (Granta) ●●●●●

Those of us in the hearing world ponder rarely on the everyday lives of our neighbours in the deaf community, where an ease in communication that we take for granted has a profound, stunting effect in its absence on the social lives of the young deaf. Thus the prospect of a collection of short stories exploring what it is to come of age on the hushed outskirts of a noisy world is an enticing one indeed.

In her debut, Louise Stern sets out 12 short stories, both homely and exotic, that promise a window on the fearless exuberance of youth through the foil of permanent silence. Most of the pieces, however, feel flimsy and underdeveloped and despite purporting


5 BIG CRIME BOOKS FOR THE SUMMER Ryan David Jahn Low Life When Simon steals the identity of the man he’s just killed for breaking into his apartment, his life takes a turn for the sinister. Macmillan, 2 Jul. Yrsa Sigurdardottir Ashes to Dust An Icelandic volcano gets an airing other than in the news with this tale of bodies suddenly appearing at the tourist-friendly ‘Pompeii of the North’ with suspicion falling upon an unlikely gent. Hodder, 22 Jul. Ruth Rendell Tigerlily’s Orchids A typically intense psycho-thriller where a house-warming party is remembered by all who attended, but not for any of the normal, nice reasons. Hutchinson, 5 Aug. Daniel Depp Babylon Nights Captain Jack Sparra’s half-brother delivers his second novel, again featuring PI David Spandau, this time hired to protect an Oscar-winning actress from a crazed stalker. Simon & Schuster, 5 Aug. Tom Cain Dictator From the author of The Accident Man, another pacy action thriller where Samuel Carver is recruited to enforce ‘regime change’ by getting shot of an African tyrant. But can he really trust those who hired him? Bantam, 19 Aug.

adventure in colourful locales, they often come out flat and uninspiring. Thus these offerings, as glimpses of an existence removed and rarely explained, are plaintive and personal but ultimately lacking in any magic. (Mark Edmundson)

largely autobiographical. A college graduate with literary ambitions, its narrator takes up a spot on a second division German basketball team, in a move inspired by post-graduation indecision and childhood nostalgia. Things become complicated, however, when he starts dating the estranged wife of a fellow American team-mate. That the club is made up of a motley crew of unhappy, uncertain figures, including a future NBA star, makes up much of the book’s prose, which seems occasionally as if in reflection of its characters’ aimlessness drifting and unfocused.

Yet, while lengthy descriptions of basketball action may not appeal to non sports fans, Markovits’ lucid ability to capture both the emotionally turbulent and mundane aspects of close personal relationships, most touchingly between himself and his father, ultimately makes Playing Days an elegant and satisfying novel. (Yasmin Sulaiman)

FAMILY MEMOIR JACKIE KAY Red Dust Road (Picador) ●●●●●

Those familiar with Jackie Kay’s poetry and fiction will know it exudes a uniquely uplifting and rib-tickling form of optimism, and that general ambience also pervades this wonderfully engaging