Books: To have and to hold, in football and in love
Middle age and youth: Lilian Pizzichini on recent story and essay collections
Sunday 03 January 1999
In "Tango", Gloria, just one of a series of bored, single, middle-aged women, learns to tango in order to impress Geoffrey, the colleague at whom she has set her cap. "This was the moment, the cusp of the year, with change in the air, when the subject of the office dance invariably came up." Langley is far too subtle, and too much of a realist, to allow her heroine a romantic climax to her dance. Instead, the bland Gloria is transformed into a sinuous, whirling "Lola Montez" complete with kiss- curl and spiky high heels. Geoffrey, meanwhile, is revealed in all his mediocrity: "Just another grey man. He held no mystery."
If read all at one go, the mood in Langley's delicately constructed stories starts to pall, and the heavy stillness of claustrophobic interiors and muggy weather - the indulgence in heady nostalgia - induce a feeling of disaffection. But, taken one at a time, her tableaux make languid appeals for empathy, and the faltering steps these women take in order to evade positive action successfully evoke the dramatic complexities of their inner lives.
Michel Faber is a younger writer, and his first collection of short stories, Some Rain Must Fall (Canongate pounds 8.99), displays a need to impress. Each story shows off a range of voices, characters, styles, and acute psychological probing.
The title story, which won last year's Ian St James award, is a sincere, sympathetic portrayal of a trouble-shooting teacher sent in to counsel a class of children who have witnessed a harrowing act of violence. Frances Strathairn brings order and compassion to her charges, but not to her own life. Like Langley, Faber is concerned with moments of crisis, but not necessarily with exposition. Sister Josephine in "In Case of Vertigo" contemplates suicide from the snug safety of her car perched on the edge of a cliff. Faber chronicles the daily routine which repeatedly puts off the dread moment.
In these instances Faber offers a perceptive analysis of characters in extremis. But in his eagerness to experiment with form, he occasionally lapses into surreal hypothetical set-ups which fail to convince. "Miss Fatt and Miss Thinne" takes its protagonists' names all too literally, and their absurd dilemma provokes neither laughter nor sympathy. In creating a world in which anything can happen, when it does happen, it's hardly a surprise.
Novelist and translator Tim Parks is concerned with moral dilemmas as they affect his and his friends' lives. Parks lives with his Italian wife and children in Verona where he has immersed himself in the European tradition of belles lettres. Adultery & Other Diversions (Secker pounds 12.99) is the work of a man approaching middle age and confronting these themes in the form of autobiographical essays, looking back on his life, and forward through his children's.
Each essay displays a humanity, grace and lucidity that illuminates his writing. Parks brings a wide range of reading - Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Roberto Calasso - to these deeply personal pieces, in which philosophical abstractions are brought to bear on straying husbands and the endless trials of child- rearing. This is especially the case in "Analogies", where Parks attempts "to establish a difference between fidelity and faith, in football and love". The divide between passion and family, both absolutes and both seemingly irreconcilable, creates a tension that recreates his adulterous friend's pressing need for self-affirmation. Ultimately, each sexual betrayal is no more diverting than the fly that buzzes around Parks's computer screen while he wrestles with a difficult passage that he is trying to translate.
Duty or diversion, glory or mundanity: Parks teases out the implications these weighty concepts have on our lives. That he succeeds is due to his skill as a storyteller and his lightness of touch in meting out his considerable erudition.
game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers
North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama
Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Lucy Hawking: Stephen Hawking's daughter writes impassioned open letter to Katie Hopkins about rights of disabled people
- 2 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 3 Russell Brand backs Ed Miliband: 'You gotta vote Labour'
- 4 General Election 2015: 14-year-old boy asks Nick Clegg – 'can you kill Katie Hopkins?'
- 5 Uploading pictures to find out how old you are gives Microsoft the right to post them wherever they want
The C-Word - review: Sheridan Smith shines in a warm, honest adaptation of Lisa Lynch's book about living with cancer
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to join show
X-Men Apocalypse: First look at Jubilee and Jean Grey played by Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner
American Horror Story: Hotel Angela Bassett set to make 'lots of trouble' with Lady Gaga in season 5
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 4 - review: Sansa is in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils