www.list.co.uk/books HISTORICAL DRAMA SALVATORE SCIBONA The End (Jonathan Cape) ●●●●●
Salvatore Scibona is being hailed as a major new voice in American literature. On the heroic evidence of The End, his debut novel, it’s little wonder. Possessed of a dizzying capacity for character description and observation, Scibona’s epic (but not overlong) account of immigrants in 1950s Ohio variously follows a downtrodden baker, an elderly abortionist, a jeweller, a teenager and a seamstress – and then leads them all to a particular place, a particular crime and a particular day. Brimming with poetic prose and focused on themes of family, home, morality and racial alienation, Scibona’s entangled narrative is firmly of its time (the prevalence of barbers; the Korean War backdrop) and yet resonant today (‘money doesn’t exist, really; it’s more a theory’). It’s also spiked with bone-dry humour, and boasts some tragically comic inner monologues – not least the passage that witnesses the recently bereaved bread-maker Rocco mistaking a sunrise for nuclear annihilation. (Nicola Meighan)
CULTURAL ANALYSIS NATALIE HAYNES The Ancient Guide to Modern Life (Profile) ●●●●●
With a rich broth of war, patricide and incest tales to draw upon, comedian Natalie Haynes champions the Greeks and Romans as role models and warning oracles for coping with the 21st century. A passionate authority on
the classics, this book is nevertheless an intellectual exercise in drawing parallels rather than a practical basis for self-help. Indeed, it might more accurately have been titled A Modern Guide to Ancient Life, because as a readable primer, it brings alive emperors and orators without offering too much insight into their artistic, political, and hoi polloi counterparts of today. Comparing Cicero’s use of litotes to those of The Fast Show’s Patrick Nice raises a smile. And Haynes generally employs an admirably light, understated humour. Frequently, though, she gets bogged down in negotiating cultural relativism and her worthier moments sometimes border on patronising for all but the most ignorant pleb. (Jay Richardson)
LITERARY MEMOIR LORENZA FOSCHINI Proust’s Overcoat (Portobello) ●●●●●
In Proust’s Overcoat lies an intriguing and dainty little tale of a man who finds his vocation in preserving items of a lost time. Jacques Guérin is a wealthy perfumier and bibliophile who started to read the works of Proust at the age of 20 and never stopped. After a bout of ill health, he stumbles into an acquaintance with the author’s
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EXPERIMENTAL FICTION PADGETT POWELL The Interrogative Mood (Profile) ●●●●●
This book’s subtitle pretty much says it all: ‘A Novel?’ As the blurb of Padgett Powell’s new effort suggests, this is the kind of thing Marcel Duchamp or Rene Magritte might have come up with had they dabbled in the written form. Over the course of 164 pages, The Interrogative Mood quite simply asks question after question after question. With each sentence, a new query is put which, in the main, has little relation to the poser placed immediately before it. Here’s an example, plucked utterly at random from page 56: ‘Do you enjoy taking cabs? Do you employ a maid, and, if you do not, would you like to? Would you name a child Jason? Do you know that the action of thirst or hunger is called “the mechanism” and that the mechanism of a pistol is called “the action?”’ This sequence reflects the banal, philosophical, surreal and totally pointless that is everywhere in the book.
And OK, it may sound awful, but the simple task of submitting to page after page of this novelistic ticker-tape yields a grip so hypnotic that you can’t fail to continue. There’s barely a subject Powell doesn’t touch on, from babysitters to bombmakers, clowns to coins, sandboxes to slide rules, and he saves the day by being extremely witty. It’s no one’s fault that very little modern fiction can be described as especially original, so it’s difficult not to be fascinated when a book comes along that blazes a trail for innovation and patents a form that cannot be copied. But can you truly love it? (Brian Donaldson)
brother, Dr Robert Proust, and his passion is inflamed. Thus begins a lifelong devotion, an impulse to become a saviour to the ‘precious talismans’ of Proust: furniture, ephemera, the bed in which Proust wrote, the fur coat which rarely left his back. It’s a short, slight but
fascinating tale by Lorenza Foschini (translated from Italian by Eric Karpeles), paved by photos and buffered by social mores and Parisian history. But it’s less about an overcoat and more about obsession, status and how one man’s raison d’être saved the ‘earthly remains of a literary deity’ from the destruction of family rancour and the ravages of time. (Peggy Hughes)
COMIC DAN ABNETT, JOHN TOMLINSON & GARY ERSKINE The Knights of Pendragon (Marvel UK) ●●●●●
The success of Captain Britain meant Marvel UK wanted more characters it could call its own and so in 1990, the Knights of Pendragon were born. Steeped in the legends of King Arthur and ancient pagan folklore, it centres around cynical Police Inspector Dai Thomas as he investigates a series of ecological- themed crimes (pollution, exotic animal smuggling, poaching) that comes across like a mix of The X-Files and Hellblazer.
This was Gary Erskine’s first big project
in comics and you can really see his artistic style develop throughout. Unusually, Dan Abnett and John Tomlinson alternated, taking it in turns to write each issue, though you can hardly spot the join, something editor Steve White must take plenty credit for. It’s a story quite unlike anything Marvel were doing at the time, a dark and literary tale that’s more
Mark Stevenson An Optimist’s Tour of the Future Seemingly, transhumans (folks avoiding the ageing process via artificial spare parts) are on the way. As are intelligent robots and commercial space flights. Didn’t they say all that in the 50s? Profile, 6 Jan.
John Brenkus The Perfection Point Subtitled ‘Predicting the Absolute Limits of Human Performance’, this cheeky little number looks at the science behind the fastest runner, the highest jumper and the like. Macmillan, 7 Jan. Peter Gill 42 This subtitle hopefully says it all: ‘Douglas Adams’ Amazingly Accurate Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything’. Beautiful Books, 20 Jan.
Siddhartha Mukherjee The Emperor of All Maladies This ‘biography of cancer’ from a leading expert offers insight into its effects and some potential cures. Fourth Estate, 20 Jan. Tim Flannery Here on Earth The author of The Weather Makers produces an interlinking biography of planet Earth and the species which runs the joint. That’s us, by the way. Allen Lane, 27 Jan.
supernatural than superhero and sits nicely alongside the likes of Hellstorm and Black Orchid. (Henry Northmore) 4–18 Nov 2010 THE LIST 29