BOOK REVIEWS / Briefly

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The Independent Culture
Remembrance Day by Brian Aldiss, HarperCollins pounds 14.99. Four characters in search of a hotel room provide American professor Hengist Embry with a chance to prove his theory of predetermination. The four who check into a small hotel in Great Yarmouth and are killed by an IRA bomb are, according to Embry's notions, somehow predestined to die in such a way. Aldiss, a master of science fiction, explores the large themes of fate, international terrorism and the existence of God, using a deceptively domestic framework, in an energetic prose style that manages to be both bristling and reflective. Mary Morrissy

Red Sorghum by Mo Yan, trs Howard Goldblatt, Heinemann pounds 14.99. Stick with the choppy opening: this extraordinary novel invites you into China's bloody heart, where beauty and cruelty co-exist. Looking back to the Japanese invasion of the 1930s, the narrator puts together the fractured stories of his father, grandmother and Grandfather Yu, a bandit commander and local hero. The impact is starkly visual - Uncle Arhat skinned alive by the Japanese, Second Grandma's rape by soldiers and the skewering of her daughter, the blood-red moon turned pale by war 'like a faded paper cutout hanging grimly in the sky'. Jennifer Potter

The Museum of Love by Steve Weiner, Bloomsbury pounds 15.99. If you wanted to reproduce the effect of reading this book you might chain up the Bob Dylan of the 1960s, stuff him with mescaline, decorate his room with lopped-off body bits, roll him in several varieties of animal excreta, and sit him in front of a word- processor. You saw a heart beating on the sidewalk? You slipped it in your pocket? It spoke to you? Sure it did. Weiner has an imagination so fecund he can give you nervous recoil from a plate of peaches. Protagonist Jean-Michel is battered by punitive Catholicism and guilty homosexuality; he visits the museums of love, religion, death, to seek 'the meaning of my suffering . . . I don't feel any more', but Papa ('Our lives are incoherent') and Pius XII ('You will die, Jean-Michel. Therefore there is no good in anything you do') aren't going to let this one escape. Powerful stuff - don't plan meals. Verity Mason

The Man Who Turned Into Himself by David Ambrose, Cape pounds 13.99. The wit and panache of the writing rescue what at first appears to be a plot based around a predictable and faintly irritating piece of psycho-trickery. The book has a 60s B-movie feel, but Ambrose is able to emerge from the Twilight Zone and engage the reader. Playing around with quantum physics, moral dilemmas and parallel worlds, Ambrose is always several steps ahead of the intellectual game, while his development of character ensures the book avoids the descent into mere puzzle-solving. Jo-Ann Goodwin

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