BOOK REVIEW / Pottery and shrink abuse: 'Schoom' - Jonathan Wilson: Lime Tree, 9.99 pounds

TWO OF the stories in Jonathan Wilson's superb debut collection feature the same narrator, Sam, a British sculptor living in Jerusalem. In the first it is 1982, with the invasion of Lebanon just beginning, and Sam is wondering whether to marry his American girlfriend Rosie. She hears he has been going around asking everyone's advice on this and takes a mighty dim view of it.

In the other, placed much further on in the book, Sam meets Rosie and her new husband in Cyprus, where he is having to make an idiotic day trip so he can re-import a new bike to Israel tax-free; but although he tells us this is only a few months later, he also tells us it is now 1989 and says he has only lived in Israel for eight years, whereas before he claimed to have lived there since the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

Cyprus? Double time schemes? Remind you of anything? Wilson's 'mistake' is more likely to be deliberate than Shakespeare's warped chronology in Othello, but serves much the same purpose of underlining the writer's basic artistic strength and his sense of what matters. It also prevents the two stories looking like fragments of the same unfinished novel, which would be wrong: they are whole and sound in themselves.

Wilson likes to show what he can get away with. He adopts a young woman's persona to tell the story of a kidnapping in a smart Tel Aviv suburb. He gives us the diary of a middle-aged American astronomy professor accused of politically incorrect glances at a student ('that is my name, Emanuel Levitan, Hoyle Professor of Reckless Eyeballing'). Born only in 1950 himself, he contrives an effective childhood memoir of London in the Blitz, although the plot turns on a defecting United States airman and this mistake, bringing America into the war a year early, irritates even if, or especially if, it is meant to illustrate the creative vagaries of memory.

He conjures enormous and sustained menace out of a car breakdown on the Jericho road by playing on the Jewish family's sheer embarrassment in the face of the gathering Arabs who might be going to murder them horribly, or fix their car, or neither, or both.

The stories are not merely exercises because Wilson succeeds so well in nearly everything he sets out to do and puts a certain spin on it besides, with humane pessimistic wit. Only a couple of times does he strain for 'meaning', as when the stargazer Levitan cogitates on observing and being observed, or when Sam decides that the fact of death 'never fits'; and at least it is done humorously.

Sam is thinking of a friend's recent, shocking death, but also of a pair of cheap custom-made shoes that have come out a size too small, made by a Cypriot cobbler who wished his sick wife out of the way and is now lost without her. Levitan's concern as to the rightness of uncovering the mysteries of the universe is naturally inspired by the ludicrous but very threatening harassment charges against him and the awesome power that campus feminists attribute to the human gaze.

The eponymous Schoom, and I assume that's shoom not skoom, is a Jerusalem therapist, given to Freud's hobby of antiquarianism, who persuades his client to steal a pottery shard from an archaeological dig for him: it's a beautifully observed piece of everyday psychiatric abuse, though not quite as symbolic as the recent true story in the London Review of Books about the shrink who made his client buy his dank, decaying, overpriced house from him, which would suit the wry Wilson treatment very well.

Wilson has lived in Britain, Israel and now the eastern US, and has a sure perception of all three settings and cultures. His style is simple and mature and he recognises that, somehow, people age but never really grow up. His protagonists tend to be in the soup without the least idea how they got there.

The interplay of tragic and comic is expertly managed. In the story 'From Shanghai' he approaches a tragic subject by way of the mysterious appearance of the world's second largest Hans Andersen collection, 20,000 volumes, at a Tilbury warehouse in 1955, and notes as an afterthought that the collector, whose wife and son were taken by the Nazis, has pathetically marked one copy by underlining, in the last sentence of 'The Brave Tin Soldier', the words 'burnt to a cinder'.

We are probably meant to see hidden here the Greek word for a burnt offering, holocaust, and by concealing it Wilson has both restored some of its outworn effect and shown the inadequacy of words - and even sentiments - before certain cruelly ill-fitting facts. His easy, readable manner belies a formidable talent.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?