BOOKS: PICK OF THE WEEK

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The Independent Culture
"We resent everyone who has `chosen' to live in the same epoch as ourselves, those who run at our side, who hamper our stride or leave us behind," wrote the Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran. "To put it more bluntly: all contemporaries are odious."

Novelist Tim Parks will test the truth of Cioran's assertions in a splendidly wicked lecture about the rancorous habits of writers. From Alexander Pope's vituperative satire on his low-rent literary peers in The Dunciad, through Shelley's attacks on Wordsworth, up to Paul Theroux's recent character assassination of his one-time mentor and idol VS Naipaul, Parks chalks up the history of writerly grudge matches.

Expanding the ideas in his recent collection of essays, Adultery and Other Diversions, Parks dissects the literary psyche to reveal the smouldering antagonistic energies that propel the creative pen; the reasons behind writers' vicious battles for superiority; and the source of their "unslakeable thirst for recognition".

"The bitchiness of authors towards each other in general and critics in particular is commonplace," says Parks (author of the Booker-shortlisted Europa). "But the idea I intend to float is that rancour is one of the chief energies behind creative writing."

The forces of rancour ferment, consume themselves and leach out across the pages of Barbara Kingsolver's new novel, The Poisonwood Bible (Faber pounds 10.99). Voyaging out of her previous fictional homeland of Arizona and Kentucky (of The Bean Trees and Animal Dreams), Kingsolver (left) revisits her childhood territory of central Africa. Her gloriously absorbing adventure follows Rev Price, an uncompromising fire-and-brimstone Baptist preacher, into 1950s Congo with his wife and four curious daughters - "the captain of a sinking mess of female minds".

"You give me 10 hours," Kingsolver once remarked, explaining her contract with the reader, "and I'll give you a reason to turn the page." Give her an hour in Brighton, this Tuesday, and this masterful narrator will certainly give you a reason to sit spellbound.

Tim Parks: British Library, 96 Euston Rd, London NW1 (0171-412 7222) Thur 6.15pm, pounds 5/pounds 3.50 concs

Barbara Kingsolver: Waterstone's, 71-74 North St, Brighton (01273 206017) Tue 7pm, free

Judith Palmer

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