BOOKS: PICK OF THE WEEK

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The Independent Culture
Adam Thorpe reads at British Library Bookshop, 96 Euston Rd, London NW1 (0171-412 7735) 19 Aug, 1pm

Patrick Gale reads at Centerprise Bookshop, 136 Kingsland High St, London E8 (0171-254 9632) 17 Aug, 7pm Deep in the Cameroon bush, by a bright moon, a small English boy makes a fateful trade with a group of hunters. Dipping into his packet of protective fetishes, he offers his ebony amulet in exchange for a motherless infant bushbaby. Soon, he is motherless, too, and cast from his magic-steeped colonial home to a frosty exile with an uncle in the English countryside. But the new landscape is haunted by the same powerful ghosts.

Seemingly inspired by both Joseph Conrad and Ted Hughes, Pieces of Light, the new novel by Adam Thorpe (above), draws on the author's own childhood, spent between Cameroon, the Congo, Calcutta and Marlborough. "Juju fascinated me, and that whole mysterious side of Africa," says Thorpe. "The feeling that one is lesser than nature, rather than in control of it like in England. I'm also interested in prehistoric and Celtic Britain, and tried to mix the two without being New Age."

Unexpectedly, Thorpe's tale leads him right back to Ulverton, the fictional village from his eponymous 1992 novel. "As soon as I pictured the uncle's house in Pieces of Light, I realised, crikey, I'm here again," laughs Thorpe. Using the Ulverton setting has in some ways become Thorpe's own fetish, a psychological fortress against forces of dislocation.

If learning to re-inhabit your own fictional landscape is strange, consider Patrick Gale's task, tilling over someone else's literary territory. Compellingly re-inventing his friend's mining-town boyhood in the early 1950s, Gale has just completed The Scarlet Boy, the autobiographical novel Tom Wakefield left unfinished on his death in 1996.

'Pieces of Light' by Adam Thorpe (Jonathan Cape pounds 16.99)

'The Scarlet Boy' by Tom Wakefield with Patrick Gale (Serpent's Tale pounds 8.99)

Judith Palmer

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